Who will police the police?

Joginder Singh ji
Former Director – CBI 

The Union Government has issued a circular to the States calling for mandatory registration of all complaints received at police stations, which should be treated as FIRs. Under Section 154 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the law already enjoins officers in charge of police stations to register all cognisable cases and maintain a Station House Diary for non-cognisable cases. For the benefit of the readers, cognisable cases are those where the police are competent to initiate legal action against offenders.

However, it is unfortunate that Government circulars or orders are rarely implemented at the police station level for the simple reason that only a statistical approach is taken for the assessment of police officers. When officers are in a position to manipulate statistics and under-register crime, they do so freely and frequently to show that all is well in their area.

After joining the Indian Police Service, I noticed that the instructions issued and reissued by me as the district police chief of Bidar only marginally improved matters. In one instance, even a case of murder was not registered as the officer-in-charge was trying to bring about a compromise between the two parties. After conducting a departmental inquiry, I dismissed the official who then went in appeal against my order. The Deputy Inspector-General of Police set aside my order after reducing the punishment to a warning. I then went in appeal to the Inspector-General of Police, saying that what had happened was unlawful and that a fraud on the public had been committed. My boss, the DIG, never forgave me for what he called disobedience. Only after my retirement did he tell me that I was young, impetuous and a stickler for rules.

Police forces all over the world are easily upset and hurt with rising crime figures. Therefore, meticulous efforts are made by a section of them to doctor crime statistics in a manner so as to give the impression that overall crime is on the decline. Senior police officers, while not discouraging or taking strict action against erring subordinates, turn a Nelson’s eye to such malpractices. The officers insisting on compulsory registration of complaints are criticised for not being competent enough to handle crime.

Take the case of the national capital, which is supposed to set the trend for the police all over the country. A simple analysis of phone call records to the Police Control Room in Delhi in 2008 reveals that on an average nearly 20 complaints of snatchings are made every day. Approximately10 calls are made for robberies. But only 10 per cent of these complaints get converted into FIRs. In 2009, approximately 1,300 cases of snatchings were registered as compared to 13,500 complaints made, while 450 robbery cases were registered out of 3,000 calls received.

Perhaps the police are more sinned against than sinning as sometimes the alleged offences are concocted. Passing of laws is one thing, but providing infrastructure to implement those laws is another. Not only is there a mismatch but also a big gap between the two. The Government feels that it has done its duty by simply passing laws.

Whether it is providing vehicles or money for petrol and stationery items or even filling of vacancies in the police force, most State administrations are extremely lethargic.

During my tenure I noticed that each police station was given a princely sum of Rs 2 per month for stationery purchases. With this amount not only complaints were to be registered but statements recorded and a copy of all evidence against the accused furnished to him or her. Apart from this, the diet allowance for prisoners in police custody was only 75 paisa per meal. The relatives or friends of the accused were expected to feed him. A common complaint against the police was that it would also ask the complainants to bring stationery for official work.

Even the bills for petty expenditure took ages to be cleared. Once, my office, despite repeated reminders to the IG’s office, did not get stationery. I wrote to the IG, “I have been begging periodically for stationery but there has been no positive response. This is the last sheet of paper and hence no more correspondence may be expected from this office till we get the stationery”. I got the stationery I needed.

With four lakh vacancies in the police all over the country, coupled with pathetic infrastructure, policemen take the short-cut of not registering cases. Though vegetable vendors, coolies and even beggars nowadays have mobile phones, the SHO of a police station is still denied this facility by the Government. It is inexcusable for a police force to indulge in malpractices like corruption. But the greater responsibility lies with the Government to rectify the situation. India not only has one of the lowest police to public ratios in the world, it does not even provide the required facilities for the police to do their job.

Since the job of the police is negative in nature, policemen can never win any popularity contest. Those who criticise the police — whether the Government or the accused or the accuser — are bound to be always unhappy with the situation. People praising the police is like having the hangman tell you that you have a pretty neck. Condemning the police is no solution. It is the Government that has to take the initiative to mend the present situation.