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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 24, June 5, 2010

Missing Elements in the Union Home Minister’s New Security Architecture

Thursday 10 June 2010, by K S Subramanium

As a former IPS officer with experience of working in the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Union Home ministry for many years and author of two recent books on the Indian police, I have read with interest the IB centenary endowment lecture, titled “A New Architecture for India’s Security”, delivered by the Union Home Minister on December 23, 2009. The lecture lacks credibility and carries no conviction because it ignores the long history and present predicament of the Indian Police, which has recently been described as a ‘dangerous anachronism’ by Human Rights Watch.

From 1861 when the existing police structure was set up to the present, when it is faced with an unprecedented organisational, managerial and policy crisis, the Indian Police structure has not undergone any fundamental reform. In 1859, the British had observed that the Indian Police were ‘all but useless for the prevention and sadly inefficient for the detection of crime’; and that they were ‘unscrupulous in the exercise of their authority and had a ‘generalised reputation for corruption and oppression’.

After two Police Commissions in the colonial period and two major Police Commissions after independence, the Government of India is yet to reform even the Police Act of 1861, leave alone the police organisation as a whole and carry out reforms of the IPC and the CrPC, which were designed basically for colonial purposes and have nothing to say about human rights, the cry of humanity today. The latest Veerappa Moily Commission report on ‘Public Order’ (2007) is a significant document which the Home Minister does not seem to have read or even seen. He is so obsessed with his own ideas that he has no time for the considered deliberations and observations, based on painstaking study and analysis, of men more experienced than him in the area of policing India. The lecture, like the man himself, is pretentious and unconvincing.

The importance of the IB as a secret intelligence agency of the Central Government from the British times is ignored. Its lack of a legal framework and charter of duties, noticed and commented upon by even the Hon’ble Vice-President of India recently, is not taken into account. This is a time when one of the main perceived threats to ‘internal security’, the Maoist violence, affects 20 States, 223 districts and over 2000 police stations as admitted by the Minister himself and the IB is the Home Ministry’s main reporting agency on the subject. The Home Minister’s silence on the unaccountability of the IB is disturbing.

THE lecture on the new security architecture for India begins with a spurious discourse on violence and goes on to explore aspects such as the state of our police; the difficult tasks ahead; the elements of the new architecture; and the role of the proposed National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC). It concludes with a call for a thorough and radical departure from the present.

The sanctioned strength of the State and Union Territory (UT) police in the country today is said to be 1,746,215 with 13,057 police stations and 7535 police posts. India has an average of 130 policemen per 100,000 persons, as against the international average of 270. The States would have to recruit over 40,000 constables in the next few years to catch up with the international average. The other issues referred to in the lecture are the proposed “Crime and Criminal Tracking Network System (CCTNS)”, to facilitate the collection, storage, retrieval, analysis, transfer and sharing of the criminal justice data; community policing to enable citizens to provide information or lodge complaints; more police stations and more constables for intelligence collection; the special anti-terrorist units at the State level to prevent and detect terrorist crimes; the ‘multi-agency centres’ both at the Centre and in the States to coordinate intelligence collection and analysis; a NATGRID to network and coordinate 21 databases across the country; and the projects for business process re-engineering of the Foreigners Division of the Ministry and for immigration, visa and foreigners’ registration and tracking.

The lecture refers to the political, administrative, intelligence and enforcement arrangements, all of which are said to need reform. The Multi-Agency Centre (MAC) set up in December 2008 has been extended to the States. At the Central level, a new mechanism of a daily meeting of the Home Minister with top security officials and others has been set up. More importantly, a National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) is to come up to take up functions relating to intelligence, investigation and operations on terrorism.

The complete silence of the Minister on the issue of police reforms is notable especially in the context of serious public concern over human rights and police behaviour. Several reports exist, starting with the National Police Commission reports (1979-81); the Soli Sorabji Committee report on the reform of the Police Act of 1861; the directions of the Supreme Court of India on police reforms; and finally the Second Administrative Reforms Commission report on ‘Public order’ in 2007. The lack of reference to any of these reports undermines the credibility of the lecture.

In the area of criminal law reform, it is not sufficient only to recast the Police Act 1861. Other major acts such as the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) also need reform to improve their human rights sensitivity. These Acts, along with the Evidence Act, were meant to provide a legal framework to maintain British rule by force. While the IPC prioritises the offences against the state and the maintenance of public order, the CrPC begins with the ‘arrest of persons’ and ‘the maintenance of public order and tranquillity’ before dealing with criminal procedure in investigation and trial of cases. The Police Act prioritises collection and communication of intelligence. Strangely, there has been no reference to these aspects in current discussions on human rights.

THE 2009 Human Rights Watch report eloquently brings out the limitations of the Indian Police structure at the ground level including its propensity to serious human rights violations, torture and extra-judicial executions together with its impunity guaranteed under section 197 of the CrPC. The report’s field-work based evaluation of the Indian Police and its recommen-dations on reforms are quite unprecedented in the history of the Indian Police.

Further, the Union Home Ministry in the past was the nodal agency for the development and protection of human rights of the dalits and adivasis, the most exploited sections of Indian society. This special obligation arises from the basic provisions of the Constitution and cannot by any means be bypassed. The Ministry controls police forces across the country and can be a powerful agency for the delivery social justice, a task which cannot be discharged effectively by any other Ministry. The Minister’s failure to mention this aspect of his Ministry’s work and his attempt to ‘para-militarise’ the Ministry is most unfortunate and goes contrary to the provisions of the Constitution of India.

Finally, the Minister fails to make any reference to the important recent report of the Planning Commission on “Development Challenges in Extremist Affected Areas”, which has brought out that the Maoist threat in the country, far from being an internal security threat, is indeed a serious developmental challenge calling for a multi-pronged, essentially non-police approach, respecting the human rights of ordinary people.

For all these reasons, the contents of the Union Home Minister’s lecture on the new security architecture for India remain unsatisfactory and must be rejected.

The author, a former member of the Indian Police Service, is the author of Political Violence and the Police in India (Sage 2007).

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