OPINION: A system on the brink

The Delhi police have come under fire from the judiciary, opposition parties and people and it has been accused of complicity with the politicians. Institutions have failed the public. The recent protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act in Delhi and other states and the subsequent communal riots in Delhi as well as the inaction by […]

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This photo taken on April 2, 2018 shows Indian police towards the sky as protesting members of "low caste" groups throw stones at the police station in Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh state. Street battles and widespread protests by Indian 'low-caste' groups enraged by what they consider the undermining of a law protecting their safety left at least one dead, police said. Clashes with police, attacks on buses and government buildings, blocked trains and roads were reported across five Indian states. / AFP PHOTO / -

March 2, 2020

The Delhi police have come under fire from the judiciary, opposition parties and people and it has been accused of complicity with the politicians. Institutions have failed the public.

The recent protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act in Delhi and other states and the subsequent communal riots in Delhi as well as the inaction by the Delhi police have brought to the fore once again the need for police and judicial reforms. The ongoing riots in some parts of the capital have exposed the weakness in the police system as well as judiciary and the political class. The Delhi police have come under fire from the judiciary, opposition parties and people and it has been accused of complicity with the politicians. Institutions have failed the public.

The Delhi High court used strong language when pulling up the Delhi police for its inaction. It said “another 1984 like situation cannot be allowed to happen in the city.” The response from the government was the midnight transfer of Justice Muralidhar, who made these sharp comments against the police and the Union Home Ministry. All these bring to the fore once again the need for judicial and police reforms. They are connected as after the police file an FIR, the courts step in.

Both need to remain independent of the political influence. Many believe that once these reforms are taken up, half the problems will be solved. Let us take the judiciary first. We have an archaic judicial system, which is crying for reforms and we still follow outdated laws. Justice is expensive for the poor while the rich with money can get away with acquittal or very less punishment. The higher courts and the Supreme Court are beyond the reach of the common man, who suffers in many ways.

They have to deal with the high cost of court fees, hefty lawyer fees, adjournments galore, delayed verdicts, lengthy judicial process, and sometimes erroneous decisions. The political influence on the judiciary is gradually on the increase. As noted jurist Soli Sorabji had once said “the criminal system in India is on the verge of collapse owing to the inordinate delay in getting judicial verdicts and many a potential litigant seems to take recourse to a parallel mafia-dominated system of justice which has sprung up in metros like Mumbai, Delhi etc.”

Look at the delay in execution of Nirbhaya convicts! Over the years, many commissions including the Law Commission have recommended various measures to improve the system including setting up of fast track courts and raising the retirement age of judges but nothing much has happened to revamp the system. Around three million cases are pending in the courts, half of them for the past two years. Around 5,000 posts are lying vacant in the subordinate courts.

According to the ‘India Justice’ report only 0.08 per cent of the GDP is spent on judiciary. A Finance ministry study last year showed that it takes an average of almost 20 years for a property dispute to get judicial remedy. It also claimed that it would take 324 years to clear the backlog of cases at the current rate of disposal. The other system, which needs urgent reform, is the police force. At least six police commissions had recommended many policy reforms but there is no political will to implement them. The police force today is underresourced and over burdened and pay of the policeman is low.

The police leadership not only lacks professionalism, but also lacks the guts to stand up to political masters. Police officers remain beholden to their political masters to get a good posting with the result they are at the beck and call of the political bosses. Common Cause, a reputed NGO, in its recent report points out that political pressure continues to block investigations.

The setting up of an independent national judicial commission with an investigative agency under it would go a long way in reforming the police force. There seems to be some movement regarding police reforms. The Union Minister of state for Home Kishan Reddy told the Rajya Sabha last month that the government has shortlisted 49 recommendations made by various commissions for bringing police reforms and said a meeting of the State Home ministers would be held soon to evolve ways to implement them.

This is a welcome move as it might be the first step towards strengthening the weak police force. People are losing faith in both the police and judiciary. Encounter killing by the police as it happened in Hyderabad a few months ago is not the answer, as rule of law should prevail. Policing and time bound justice deserve urgent attention of the ruling class.

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