Hon’ble Justice J.S. Verma, Former Chief Justice of India; Mr. N. Gopalaswami, Former Chief Election Commissioner of India; Mr. Vikram Lal, President of Common Cause; Director of IIC; leaders of civil society;, academia and the media; veterans of public services; ladies and gentlemen.

It gives me great pleasure to extend a hearty welcome to you all to this day-long deliberation on the most pressing issue in our quest for good governance. This seminar is an attempt to develop a strategy to accelerate the pace of police reforms, while enlarging the ambit of the ongoing discourse so as to give primacy to the aspirations and expectations of the people. There is no disagreement that the present state of policing in India is totally unacceptable. The persistence of the colonial mindset of treating the police as an instrument for furthering the legitimate and illegitimate ends of the ruling classes has demoralized the police, eroded its credibility and compromised its capacity to uphold the rule of law. The police is totally out of sync with the imperatives of policing in a pluralist democracy grappling with problems of under-development, deep societal tensions and endemic conflicts of different hues. Superimposed on these problems is the scourge of terrorism sponsored by hostile neighbours and now increasingly engendered within national borders by radical ideologies of many varieties. In such a situation, it is but natural that the inadequacies of the Indian police should be dramatically exposed in times of national tragedies such as the Anti Sikh riots of 1984, the demolition of Babri Masjid and its aftermath, the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 and the Terrorist onslaught on Mumbai of November 2008. There have also been countless instances of egregious professional misconduct, exploitation of the common man, atrocities against weaker sections and collusion with criminal mafia. At the same time, there are outstanding examples, individual and collective, of bravery, sacrifice and dedication to duty. But the enduring impression is that of a system on the verge of collapse and in urgent need of resuscitation.

A number of regimens have been prescribed for the desired resuscitation of the police system, particularly in the last three decades. Mr. Prakash Singh, a distinguished police officer himself, undertook a massive effort of extracting the essence of the prescriptions of various commissions and expert committees, which had deliberated on the subject. This essence is embodied in the seven directions given by the Supreme Court in September 2006 in its landmark judgment in Prakash Singh, Common Cause and another vs. the Union & others. Around the same time, the Police Act Drafting Committee headed by Mr. Soli Sorabjee came up with its Model Police Act for a total revamp of the police system in the country. There is a remarkable parallelism between the provisions of the Model Police Act and the Supreme Court directions, which have drawn upon, among others, the draft report of the PADP. The Second Administrative Reforms Commission’s report on Public Order followed within a year. While endorsing the formulations of the PADP, it emphasizes the citizen-centric dimensions of police reforms and enunciates eight core principles which should form the bedrock of police and criminal justice reforms. A comprehensive reform package can be built around these unexceptionable tenets, provided there is a political will for this undertaking.

While the Central and State Governments drag their feet over police reforms, there is considerable divergence of view among the votaries of police reforms and human rights activists as regards the content, tenor, reach, and outcomes of the measures envisaged in the three propositions. In our view, it should be possible to reconcile these differences and evolve a consensus by a process of iteration and incremental refinement of a draft reforms package. At this point, I would like to recall a Sanskrit verse cited by Swami Bhoomananda Teertha in his exhortation to the Workshop to Stimulate Expeditious Police Reforms held by the Foundation for Restoration of National Values earlier this week:

Freely translated, it means that in the ideal Age of Sat Yuga, the desired social objective was achieved spontaneously through the virtuous conduct of individuals. In the Age of Treta, when the concept of Ram Rajya found its full development, the righteous ruler ensured the common weal. In the Third Age of Dwapara, public good was realized through the force of logic as epitomized in the Divine Song of Gita, but in our age of Kali Yuga, this objective can only be accomplished through concerted action.

We cannot afford to ignore this call to action. As long as we have a shared objective and can agree on the essentials of the approach, it is possible to work together and find a common ground on which to build our strategy and plan of action. There will always be different standpoints, perceptions and priorities and it will be unrealistic to strive for unanimity among those who are seeking to transform the police from being a handmaid of the ruling elite to a servant of the rule of law and a guardian of the freedoms and rights of the people. Being Indian, we are naturally augmentative and our debates and disputations can be endless and self-defeating. We are also given to self-flagellation and decrying all our institutions as beyond redemption. But our institutions have time and again surprised us by their resilience and their capacity to rise to the occasion. Today, there are hopeful signs of revival at the horizon as the monsoon gathers strength and the threat of an impending drought recedes. There is a growing realization that good governance can pay unexpected political dividends despite the divisions in our society and the imperfections of our electoral system.

Civil society should, therefore, seize the opportunity engendered by a happy concordance in the directives of the Supreme Court in Prakash Singh’s case, the Model Police Act formulated by the Police Act Drafting Committee and the recommendations made by the Second Administrative Reforms Commission. We need to mobilize popular support for the replacement of the Police Act of 1861 by a new Central Police Act, which, under the Constitutional scheme, will extend to the Union Territories. The Select Committee of Parliament can address the reservations articulated by human rights activists at the stage of consideration of the new Police Bill. We should not lose precious time by focusing on the divergences within the movement for police reforms. Instead, we must press for introduction of the Model Police Bill, modified in thelight of the recommendations made by the ARC, in the next session of the Parliament. Once this initial hurdle has been crossed, we should insist on a full consideration of the reservations and apprehensions expressed by different sections of civil society in respect of specific provisions of the Bill. This demand would be perfectly in order, since the recent experience of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act has shown that inputs from civil society can greatly improve the quality of a legislation and enhance its transformational potential. In parallel, we need to launch a popular movement for replacement of regressive State Police Acts by new laws in line with the central legislation. The task of civil society will not end there. It will have to keep a constant vigil on the functioning of the institutions and accountability mechanisms created by the new legislations and ensure that they do not lose their vigour and get reduced to an exercise in tokenism.

I am confident that our deliberations today will bring us a step closer to our goal.


Kamal Kant Jaswal

When an efficient secretary asked her boss for raise in her salary, he rejected the case and said: ‘Your salary is already more than the secretary’s at the next desk. And she has five children, you know.’
‘Excuse me’, she encountered, ‘I thought we got paid for what we produce here – not for what we produce at home in
our own time.’
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
A man who wanted to sell his car phoned a newspaper and asked how much it cost to put an ad in the paper.
‘Two thousand rupees for 2.5 centimetres,’ the man on the phone answered.
‘I can’t afford it then,’ said the caller. ‘My car is four and a half metres long.’

July - September, 2009