Modernizing India’s Police Force
In this guest edition of The Interview, Nilanjana Sen talks to Somesh Goyal, director general of police for Himachal Pradesh.
In India, the Police Act is of 1861 vintage, drafted barely four years after the “natives” revolted against the rapacious British East India Company in what is known as India’s First War of Independence, or the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny. This act, which was meant to subjugate the native population, is the one in use today.
However, after independence, various states in India curated their own police acts, but these haven’t always been fundamentally different from the 1861 version. The police is a state subject in India, and the reforms proposed to the services are aimed at reflecting the aspirations of an evolving society. In 1981, the National Police Commission of India submitted its first Police Bill, with reforms continuing to remain an important issue since.
Prakash Singh, the former director general of police of Uttar Pradesh, picked up the issue of police reform and filed a public interest litigation in 1995 to fast track the initiation of reforms. With hardly any progress on the issue , the Supreme Court of India made it mandatory in 2006 for individual states to initiate the process of reform. By 2006, the Police Act Drafting Committee formed by the Ministry of Home Affairs had submitted the draft Model Police Bill. While the bill was circulated among all state governments, it did not necessarily lead to new legislation.
In this guest edition of The Interview, Nilanjana Sen talks to Somesh Goyal, director general of police for Himachal Pradesh, about the need for new police legislation, the role of technology in improving police operations, and the modernization of the state police force.
Nilanjana Sen: The Indian Police Act of 1861 enacted by the British forms the bedrock of Indian police operations. Why has it been so difficult to repeal and replace it with legislation that reflects the aspirations of a vibrant and progressive society?
Somesh Goyal: The Indian Police Act of 1861 has been replaced by state police acts in a number of states. In Himachal Pradesh, for example, we had new legislation called the Himachal Pradesh Police Act of 2007, which is in sync with the times. Instead of being a colonizer’s brutal force, the act seeks to transform the police into a service-oriented unit. So there is change. But at the same time, I would say, this legislation has not been passed in a number of states. The Supreme Court of India in Prakash Singh vs Union of India passed a few orders regarding assured tenures, selection processes, internal autonomy, etc., which have not been fully incorporated in the so-called modern acts. So there is still a lot of ground to cover, but we are all moving in that direction.
Sen: What has been the role of technology in improving police operations in India?
Goyal: There are no two opinions about the fact that technology has played a key role in improving police operations. Take the case of how the police has addressed the problem of narcotics in Himachal Pradesh. Using technology and digital maps of the area, particularly of isolated and remote locations where the majority of cultivation stays under the radar, we identify where cultivation of cannabis and opium is taking place. My immediate source of intelligence in Himachal Pradesh, however, has been “humint,” which comes from the people. Technology has helped us in collation, updation, validation, storage and sifting of actionable intelligence on a real-time basis.
Earlier, we depended on registers to track down criminals. This technique is now obsolete. It has been getting replaced with CCTNS — a national Crime and Criminal Tracking System. Our roll-out has been one of the fastest and most effective in the entire country.
However, even as the system becomes more efficient, there are various new challenges we face by way of cybercrime that dot the landscape. There is a lot of fraud taking place via the World Wide Web. In a number of cases, the servers of the social media sites are located outside the country, which makes investigation a difficult task. Also, there is a problem with a lack of training in the use of technology to crack such cases. Thus, the police force is set with the task of changing with the times and has to continuously upgrade its strategy, task force and technology.
Himachal Pradesh, however, is very different in the sense that we are one of the most educated states in India. The awareness levels are high even in the lowest ranks of the police. The education standard is very high and we have seen that people catch up with technology fast. Most of our investigative officers are put through an intensive training program at our Police Training College at Daroh, in the Kangra district. During training, they are evaluated according to their performance at the college and then assigned the roles of investigators, armed police, etc.
Sen: What action has been taken in Himachal Pradesh to modernize the police force and make it more effective?
Goyal: Even though we are a very small state, we are very conscious of the quality of work that we do. We may be getting minuscule funds under the modernization plan from the center and a matching grant from the state, but every penny that we have received has been well utilized in improving and strengthening our investigative capabilities, forensics science labs, mobility and other infrastructure as a result of which our response time has improved, conviction rates are much better. Our scientific investigation standards are much higher compared to other states, and our cyber cell is doing a wonderful job.
In Himachal Pradesh, we also have something known as the Minimum Service Delivery Guarantee Act, and we adhere to that. As far as lodging of complaints is concerned, here one can do so through SMS [text message] or online. Responses are sent to the complainants on an immediate basis. As soon as a complaint is received, it is forwarded to the police office concerned. Timelines to address the grievances have been fixed. The complainant is regularly updated about the progress. For various verifications like passports, we do take around 10 days to complete the process. We are in the process of supplying tablets to our police officers set up specifically for this type of verification to bring down the time to less than one week.
Sen: Do you think that there is a need to reassess the role of constables in the Indian police force? What is your view on them having responsibilities to fulfill but no real authority?
Goyal: I agree that there is a need to empower the civil police. The role of a constable who is doing routine policing has to be reassessed under several acts. Presently, constables are not empowered to do things like investigative work despite of the fact that they constitute over 90% of the work force, and that their educational levels at the time of enrolment have also shown an upward trend. A large number of them are graduates and, in some cases, even post-grads. These roles and powers are fulfilled by the head constables and other senior officers instead. So, until the constable does not become a head constable, he does not exercise a lot of responsibility, which to my mind should be available to him as a police officer. We will be making recommendations to the government regarding what can be done at the moment.
In the armed police the game is totally different. It is a game of numbers, but on the street your role becomes totally different. So one must have a different sort of sensitivity, responsibility and accountability. We do have something in mind, and we want to take it forward once we have definite recommendations.
Sen: What is your view on integrating community policing with regular policing to making policing more effective?
Goyal: A policeman is a citizen in uniform. And a policeman should be perceived as a friend of the people. These are lofty ideals and to achieve this we need community participation. A response mechanism has to be evolved from the police leadership that incorporates the aspirations of the people. And our policing practices should be devised based on that. But we need a very strong mechanism which is adequately funded, well-structured and has the mandate of the government.
Sen: What are the two most important police reforms in your view?
Goyal: One, post independence, we have seen disproportionate growth of armed police at the center and states vis-à-vis civil police that provides cops on the streets. A nation-wide assessment of civil police needs to be done to provide services expected. The scale must now tilt in favor of the civil police.
Two, constables of the civil police need to be empowered to carry out investigative and other core police functions. Adding mere numbers to the police stations may not result in better service delivery.
Sen: What do you think are the big internal security challenges India faces?
Goyal: Lack of quality education and unemployment among the youth in India poses the biggest security challenge. India has the largest young population in the world which may not have the requisite education and skills to get employment. This sizeable population, which is unemployed and has nothing to do, is an easy target for criminals and anti-national elements.
Naxalism continues to hurt us. It is a much bigger issue than militancy in various theaters. Radicalization of youth in the absence of jobs and quality education is another challenge. Perceptions of alienation and persecution in certain areas of our country call for us to go the drawing board.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.