In yet another instance of police deviance, a retired Delhi Police inspector, H. P. Singh, was sentenced to seven-year rigorous imprisonment by a court earlier this week in a 17-year-old custody death case. This past month retired Assistant Commissioner of Police, R. P. Tyagi was sentenced to death in a similar case. Retired ACP K. P. Singh and Sub-inspector Tej Singh were also awarded imprisonment for their involvement.
These are not isolated cases. Off and on there are reports of brutality, sexual assault and other crimes committed by police personnel across the country. The National Human Rights Commission's annual reports point to a number of cases of police atrocities. Even official statistics speak of a large number of such complaints against the police by the public.
Of a total of 23,409 complaints received by the Delhi police in 2003, close to 22 per cent (5,908) were against the police personnel themselves, according to the first Delhi Human Development Report 2006. The Delhi police therefore have had to award punishment to their own personnel which, for the year 2003, included censure (1,640 cases), forfeiture of service (241 cases), withholding of increment (77 cases) and dismissal, removal or termination (57 cases).
Unfortunately, the charges against the police have not been confined to financial corruption and flouting of departmental rules but other crimes as well. Even senior officers have been found indulging in criminal acts, raising doubts over impartial investigation into the complaints against their own people.
A Delhi Police officer in his suicide note recently had levelled allegations of mental torture against a senior officer. No surprise then that the national Capital has the dubious distinction of the highest number of cases pending against policemen - 22.2 per cent, according to the Delhi Human Development Report 2006.
The present set-up -- where the police are policed mostly by themselves -- not just discourages the victims from raising their voice against the perpetrator of the crime but also hampers fair investigation. Hence the need for an independent and non-police agency competent enough to receive, investigate and recommend action on complaints against police officers.
It is the criminalisation of politics that has produced and promoted a culture of impunity that allows the wrong type of policeman to get away with their acts. The Indian political arena has witnessed an increased inflow of criminal elements during the past two decades and the problem of abusive political control over the police has worsened.
Nothing less than a whole-hearted and timely effort to shield the constabulary from unwanted and illegitimate pressures can save the situation.
But this is easier said then done as the wrong politicians have as much vested interest in retaining the existing system as the wrong police officers.
For the time being, implementing some of the suggestions made by the committees constituted to look into the issue of police reforms -- like improving the service and living conditions of the constabulary, improving in-house vigilance within the police department and reviewing the record of arrests made by the police station -- could serve as small but significant steps in the right direction.
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