Police in Madhya Pradesh need drastic reform

By Navaz Kotwal and Maja Daruwala, IANS,

Elections in Madhya Pradesh are just around the corner. Manifestos are being readied. Promises are being made. People will vote. But there is little belief that whoever wins will drastically improve things.

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But they can – if basic issues of governance are honestly dealt with.

Most important amongst these is improving the police and assuring everyone – high and low, rich and poor, man and woman – of safety and security. Today, the people of Madhya Pradesh can’t say they have it.

A fool’s look at the crime statistics makes the whole story clear. Its two premier cities – Indore and Bhopal – record the highest crime rates amongst all of India’s mega cities. The last two years post a sharp increase, with crime going up by 10 percent in 2007 alone. Madhya Pradesh’s 2,900 rapes in 2006-07 are the highest of any state and accounted for 15 percent of the total rapes in the country.

More shameful than all this is the crime record of the police themselves. In a country notorious for non-registration of complaints, the state managed to clock up nearly 23,000 complaints against the police themselves. Loosely translated this means that three out of every 10 policemen have a complaint against him. At the same time Madhya Pradesh has the third largest contingent of armed police in the country.

Last year’s budget increased by 24 percent; less than three percent was spent on training. This makes it clear that merely increasing numbers and handing them weapons will not change a thing about policing – except perhaps make them more dangerous for ordinary folk.

Even when it is as plain as the nose on your face that the police need improving, giving people an unbiased responsive police has never been a priority with people in power. In fact politicians and bureaucrats actively resist improvement.

Two years ago the Supreme Court identified the major causes of bad policing – too much illegitimate political interference with every day functioning and too little accountability for police non-performance and wrongdoing.

It directed all states to create ‘buffer’ bodies between the police and politicians, and also to create police complaints authorities that could independently look into people’s complaints about them. Madhya Pradesh has done neither. In company of other states it has been dragging its feet.

Even without any Supreme Court orders, policing can be vastly improved by any chief minister who is willing to go about it side by side with his people and their police. Making police more effective means judging police performance against annual police plans drawn up only after local consultations show up what people at ground level need; giving police adequate finance, personnel and equipment to do their job well; recruiting on the basis of bringing in men and women fit for the job; and not because money and influence peddling got them in.

There have to be more policewomen in the force who are given better respect and facilities; training methods and curriculum must reflect not only modern scientific policing methods but secular attitudes based on obeying the law and nothing and no one else.

The main objective of policing must be changed from merely ‘maintaining law and order’ on behalf of the ruling regime to protecting life and property, but above all liberty and people’s rights and freedoms.

Most of all, any new chief minister must ensure that the police are unbiased and accountable only to the law and must promise that no police person will ever be able to get away with being disobedient to the law.

In other words, dear future chief minister, promise to change the police from the present fearsome coercive force it is, to an essential service that the people of MP richly deserve. This is the least any new chief minister can do. If he can’t promise that, then he must not become chief minister. Police reform is too important to be neglected and too urgent to be delayed.

(The authors are coordinator and director respectively of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi. They can be reached at [email protected])