By Nantoo Banerjee
Last month, the alleged murder of a 19-year-old girl receptionist, Ankita Bhandari, in the Vanantara resort in Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled Uttarakhand’s Pauri district sparked massive outrage across the country. The girl went missing on September 18 following which a missing complaint was lodged by her parents without any avail. The girl was allegedly pushed from a cliff into the river Ganga by the owner and two of his employees for “refusing to indulge in prostitution with hotel guests.” Only after her body was found, the police were forced to act under massive public protests. Three people, including a BJP leader’s son, Pulkit Arya, along with two others were arrested for her alleged murder. Uttarakhand DGP admitted that the girl was forced to commit ‘wrongful activities’.
Also last month, the people in West Bengal were highly agitated about the police inaction to trace two teen-aged Kolkata school students who went missing. The police had allegedly refused to note a FIR and asked the complaining parents to make general diary entries instead, saying the boys might be out for fun. Days after, the bodies of the two boys were found in a canal. They were strangled and killed. Under fire for not being proactive in investigating the shocking murder of the two young boys, Kolkata police was reprimanded by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Immediately after, the case was handed over to the state Criminal Investigation Department (CID) for a probe. Unfortunately, police refuse to learn.
In the first case, the police might have been fully aware of the sex racket run by the Uttarakhand resort owner, a BJP leader’s son. In the other case, the police might have decided to go easy as the parents of the “missing” boys were ordinary citizens without any major ruling party link. The two unfortunate crime incidents may be different, but they seem to have a common thread — the political connection or absence of it. Police in most states are too busy in protecting political parties in power and their private interests to take note of the common man’s complaints. This could explain the reason behind the growing crime rates in the country — recorded or unrecorded. Police are rarely pulled up for rising crime rates. A state subject, the police portfolio generally comes directly under the chief minister.
The recent report of National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) showed alarming increase in crime against women and incidences of rape, kidnapping, killing and child trafficking. The reliability of the NCRB report depends on the nature of data supplied by state governments which are known to often under-report crimes to save their own back. The crime against women in India increased by 15.3 percent in 2021 over the previous year. Last year, 4,28,278 cases of ‘crime against women’ were registered as against 3,71,503 cases in 2020. The number of registered rape cases increased from 28,046 in 2020 to 31,677, last year. Kidnapping cases increased from 84,805 in 2020 to 1,01,707 in 2021. Last year, the rate of violent crimes was highest in BJP-ruled Assam,(76.6 crimes per one lakh population). It was followed by Aam Aadmi Party-led Delhi (57) and Trinamool Congress-governed West Bengal (48.7).
The multi-dimensional political pressure on police in states has been constantly rising. The perennially understaffed and under-equipped forces are often in a dilemma over what needs to be tackled first — public peace or protection of political masters’ private interests. Police are one of the society’s most ubiquitous organisations and policemen happen to be a government’s most visible representatives. At times of crisis, danger and difficulty, when an aggrieved citizen does not know what to do and whom to approach, the nearest police station and a policeman happen to be the most appropriate and approachable unit and person for him. Police are expected to be the most accessible, interactive and dynamic organisation in any society. Broadly, police are expected to play a twin role in a society — maintain law and protect order. However, the ramifications of these two duties are numerous, which result in making a large inventory of duties, functions, powers, roles and responsibilities of the police organisation.
The inventories of police jobs are also quite complex. They relate to investigations, crime prevention and detection, maintenance of order and security, enforcement of social legislation, collection of intelligence, natural calamities and disaster management and democratic election-related duties among others. Police are required to collect intelligence about political activities, labour activities including strikes, student agitations, sexploitations, communal tensions, criminal activities or those potentially destructive to peace.
To ensure that the police power is used for legitimate purposes, various countries have adopted safeguards making police accountable and creating independent oversight authorities. In India, the political executive has the power of superintendence and control over police forces to ensure accountability. However, the Second Administrative Reforms Commission had noted that this power is often manipulated and ministers have misused police forces for personal and political reasons. Experts had recommended that the scope of the political executive’s power must be limited under law. The higher judiciary is often losing faith in politically-controlled state police to conduct investigations on highly sensitive issues and assigning central agencies such as CBI and ED with the task of inquiry into critical cases seemingly involving state authorities.
Despite police being directly under state chief ministers, forces ironically remain highly understaffed and under-equipped. Published reports show state police forces are understaffed to the extent of 24 percent against sanctioned vacancies. Constabulary comprises about 86 percent of the state police. Constables are typically promoted once during their service, and normally retire as head constables. This weakens their incentive to perform well. In India, crime per lakh population increased by 28 percent over the last decade (2005-2015).
However, convictions had been alarmingly low. In 2015, convictions were secured only in 47 percent of the cases registered under the Indian Penal Code of 1860. The Law Commission observed that one of the reasons behind this is the poor quality of investigations. CAG audits have found shortages in weaponry with state police forces. For example, Rajasthan and West Bengal had shortages of 75 percent and 71 percent respectively in required weaponry with the state police. The Bureau of Police Research and Development also noted a 30.5 percent deficiency in stock of required vehicles with the state forces.
Generally, police are also known to be extremely corrupt. This may also be impacting on crime detection and apprehension rates. In a large and populous country like India, police forces need to be well-equipped, in terms of personnel, weaponry, forensic, communication and transport support, to perform their role well. Most importantly, police need to have full operational freedom to carry out their responsibilities professionally under satisfactory working conditions (e.g., regulated working hours and promotion opportunities), while being held accountable for poor performance or misuse of power under financial and political influence. Unfortunately, political influence is making police increasingly corrupt and little concerned about the common man. (IPA Service)