A tough row to hoe

There is a taut rope on which I dance….
In truth I do not dance.
I only move from pole to pole,
To loosen the rope, to ease the pull,
So I might make my escape
But the tension does not ease
And I move from pole to pole
Tension continues
And that is the dance people see.

(Ageya’s ‘Tight Rope Walker’)

We live in difficult times. Tensions of various intensities make life hard to live. People, due to socio-economic or persecution reasons try to break away from their roots and migrate to find new space for betterment. People from rural and impoverished areas, for understandable socio-economic or political reasons, demographic pressures or lure of better life, move into cities of opportunities. Delhi had a population of 17.5 lakh in 1951, 27 lakh in 1961, 1.67 crores in 2011 and is estimated to be 1.87 crores in 2016. The NCR now has a bludgeoning population impacting Delhi. This phenomenal urban growth will not only need massive infusion of civic infrastructure but also of positive criminal administration, law enforcement and community policing.

 

Law assures ‘Safe Cities’

Article 14 of the Constitution assures equality of opportunity and status to all. Article 15 makes special provisions for women, children and socially and educationally backward classes of citizens. Article 21 with its long reach, among other things, assures health, shelter, growth and nourishment. Various UN conventions and Articles 38 and 39 of Indian Constitution enjoin the state to promote welfare of the citizens and secure social order and justice-social, economic and political-to all. These provisions arm the marginalized, underprivileged or rootless migrants to demand minimum guarantees of meaningful life with dignity. Urban settled communities resist this encroachment into their peace, environment and routine. Even migrants jostle for elbow room among themselves. Freedom from traditional social constraints in the new environment makes them aggressively assert themselves.

In urban contexts, inequality is a form of structural violence that often triggers more reactionary forms of violence. It is not only inequality of income but lack of access to basic social services, lack of state protection, exposure to systematic corruption and inefficiencies that most acutely affect the poor. Urbanization has brought new challenges in terms of conflict, violence and urban governance and citizen security in particular. World Bank’s World Development Report 2011 highlighted the significance of violence as a development problem and focuses around criminal violence, terrorism and civil unrest. The police has a crucial role in coping with it.

The state machinery, political as well as bureaucratic, is expected to carry out the directives of the Constitution. The criminal justice system, including police and prisons, bear the onerous responsibility of maintaining peace and social order in the resultant chaos.

 

Crime and the city

Haphazard and unplanned growth caused by reasons natural and migration, puts great pressure on civic amenities, crime and social peace. Urbanization though promotes economic, social and political progress but also leads to socio-economic problems. Ghettos, overcrowded squatter settlements, slums sprawl in the midst of cities and densely populated fringes of urban areas. Squalor and lack of basic amenities like health, water and sanitation generate angst against the state and those placed better. Television, mobile phones, cinemas, glitter of high society fascinate the marginalized young aspirants. Lure of lucre and high life makes them opt for crime and violence. Gang wars for area domination and monopoly crime business are common. This phenomenon is a natural corollary of migration and slum culture. The drug gangs of Latin America, bootlegging gangs of Chicago, harbor gangs of Hong Kong, extortion gangs of Mumbai, etc. are outcome of urban explosion. Lack of jobs, unemployment among labour, educated and semi educated people, rising number of school dropouts and lumpen elements lacking basic skill, add to social strife. The British educational system inherited by us produces skill-less products. People in general consider police as the visible face of government and is held accountable by media and the public for whatever ails the society. Is the police responsible for failures of the criminal justice system? Is the police geared to take a call to handle this massive problem thrown up by urbanization and resultant spiraling crime by itself? The police in bondage of politicians, hemmed by the Police Act of 1861, is unable to get free of its fetters. Despite the untiring efforts of Prakash Singh, with the support of Justices Varma and Sabharwal to usher police reforms, states are unwilling to let police free from their stranglehold. Criminal-politician-police nexus and political control of police is the bane of
Indian police.

The police is caught in a cleft stick. It is straining to cope with bludgeoning law enforcement problems in an ever bloating urban society with poor infrastructure, archaic laws and political interference. Compare average police strength per 1 lakh population. In Spain it is 525, Russia 522, UK 224, US 195 and in India it is 138. The UN standard of police-population ratio is 222 per lakh. Delhi has 176, Bihar 94 and UP 65 policemen per lakh population. UNODC ranks India 67th in police strength, 90th in order and security and 69th in regulatory enforcement out of 102. There are, on average, 25% vacancies all the time. There is chronic shortage of manpower, partly due to multifarious regulatory duties entrusted to police and partly due to poor man management. I recall when Babri Masjid fell on 6th December 1992, in response to emergency bugle call in Bhopal district police lines, only 3 policemen responded out of a strength of over 3500 personnel in various police branches. Mumbai had similar experience when 26/11 tragedy took place.

Indian police have too wide a charter as compared to other regulatory and investigative agencies like CBDT, Customs and ED. Apart from investigating crimes, police must prioritize law and order, regulate traffic, issue licenses, locate missing persons, impound stray cattle, dispose of unclaimed bodies, prevent public nuisance, collect political intelligence, protect vital installations, escort prisoners, undertake counter-terror operations, protect VIPs, interface with citizens, care for senior citizens, respond to emergency calls, etc. There are over 460 Acts and Ordinances which require police intervention. Many municipal functions have been entrusted to police which increases their burden. In most other countries ‘municipal or social reform and social protection functions have special enforcement mechanisms set up under different departments’. Indian laws insist on their investigation by police Resultantly basic crime prevention has taken a back seat.

 

Making cities crime-free

Countering and controlling proliferation of crime in urban space needs special attention by police. In urban settlements criminal tendencies show up by deviant behavior graduating to thefts, extortion, kidnapping, murder and formation of urban gangs. The beat police overlook these ominous signs. The theory of ‘broken window syndrome’ becomes relevant here. These initial signs of deviation must be handled right then. Rampant traffic violations generate a sense of impunity that one can get away with lawlessness. Shortage of manpower concerns can be partly remedied by having an honest manpower audit and superficial functions not aiding genuine police work must be eliminated. Bifurcation of investigative and law and order duties was ordered by SC. Only Kerala and Punjab have complied with it. In 2013 MHA had suggested creation of municipal police in cities of over 10 lakh population. This force would enforce municipal laws including traffic management, relieving police to do its core function. In many countries certain special welfare laws are entrusted to specially created police units. Minorities Commission, Women’s Commission, Children’s Commission and Senior Citizen’s Commission should have specially trained police to carry out their mandate. Embargo on handcuffing arrested persons and under trials, to be escorted to courts locally and outside, is manpower intensive.

A separate armed police should be entrusted with this work. Upgrading technology to conduct court proceedings through television or skype from place of detention will save manpower and expense. Decriminalization of many offences like homosexuality, prostitution, suicide, adultery, minor drugs, prohibition, victimless crimes, etc. will spare police of much futile work. It is a truism that every society gets the police it deserves and that the police is the mirror image of society. To usher change in police image, the police must gear up to become proactive, community oriented, professional, bound by ethics and morality, empathetic to vulnerable groups, usher attitudinal changes, function as supportive arm of criminal justice system and help maintain rule of law.

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