The Hindu opinion piece “Accountability, not armour plating”, published October 12, 2017, argues that the Centre’s recently announced umbrella scheme for police reform, the Modernisation of Police Forces (MPF), appears to be inadequate and misdirected. If we “cut through the hype”, the issue of “essential reforms aimed at democratising the police” remains unaddressed. The article also contends that the “push is geared to armour plate State police in their responses to internal security challenges”, even as questions remain about police behaviour, encounter deaths, and government/ police opacity vis-à-vis their “responsibility to account for deaths caused due to police action”. Further, the article has a problem with “big money” — the total financial outlay of “Rs 25,000 crore” (the actual figure is Rs 25,060 crore) and believes it would be unwise to spend this money without proper “bookkeeping”.
In sum, the writer is unhappy about the MPF and shows no ambiguity in claiming and implying that this is not the reform that Indian police forces should be undergoing.
Need for Modernisation
First of all, the writer may be asked just how necessary is police modernisation in India, for how long this has been pending and whether a project on this scale has ever been attempted before. By the article’s own admission, encounters with Maoists, for instance, have risen, notwithstanding a reduction in violent incidents and violence-related deaths since 2013, as per the Home Ministry’s data.
But does a reduction in Maoist violence and increase in elimination of Maoists mean India’s police forces do not need modern offensive and defensive equipment? Has not the contention been that India’s police forces have been inadequately equipped, hindering both their anti-insurgency operations as well as maintenance of law and order?
If that is so, then what is the problem with the following objectives of the MPF?
- Boosting capacity, ability and efficiency of Central and state police forces
- Boosting the ability to address challenges in LWE areas, Jammu & Kashmir and the Northeast
- Provisions for helicopters, upgraded police wireless, CCTNS (criminal tracking network and systems)project, e-prison project, the National Satellite Network, modern weapons, modernising logistical support
- Computerisation of crime registration, investigation and prosecution
- Assistance to states for upgrading police infrastructure, forensic science labs, institutions and equipment to plug critical gaps
- Integration of police stations to set up a national database of crime and criminal records
- Linking the database with other entities in the criminal justice system, such as prisons, forensic labs, prosecution offices, etc
- A state-of-the-art forensic lab in Amravati
- A Central internal security outlay of Rs 10,132 crore for J&K, LWE-affected states and the Northeast.
- Outlay of Rs 100 crore for the Northeast for the upgrade of police infrastructure, training institutes, investigation facilities
The objectives and provisions cited above are not mere “armour-plating”. But it can be argued that even that armour-plating may be necessary for the police to answer their first call to duty – keeping law and order and meeting India’s internal security challenges. As it happens, the provisions are for both basic law and order and battling insurgencies and other crises.
The MPF announced by the Centre is, in fact, a first of its kind umbrella modernisation scheme for the police, with nothing on this scale attempted before. It is, therefore, a fresh and progressive move and a very big step towards police modernisation. A beginning has always to be made somewhere and what has been planned does not appear to be an insignificant and misdirected beginning.
Some of the writer’s questions are actually answered by the MPF itself, such as the special provisions for women’s security.
Equally important is the fact that undertaking development initiatives has been listed among the main objectives of the MPF. For instance, there is a special Central assistance of Rs 3,000 crore to the 35 worst-affected LWE districts which is meant to tackle underdevelopment.
If we add the provisions on the mobility of police forces, logistical support, wireless upgrade, satellite communications, CCTNS and e-prisons, we can take better measure of how progressive the MPF is.
States & Police Forces
The MPF aims at assisting states in upgrading their police infrastructure to enable them to respond to emerging and future challenges. There appears to be no need, as the article does, to begrudge the financial outlay for this. Moreover, this largescale assistance is not mere “armour-plating”.
Law and order, and thereby police, are in the State List, as per Entry 2 of List II of the VII Schedule in the Constitution. States, therefore, are primarily responsible for the same. However, it has been seen, historically, that states have never been able to fully modernise and equip their police forces to desired levels, mainly due to financial constraints. This is the reason why the MHA has supplemented the “efforts and resources” of the states. Since 1969-70, this has taken the route of the Scheme for Modernisation of State Police Forces. What the Centre has come up with now is the big umbrella scheme that looks at the needs of both Central and state police forces.
To see if there was any need for the Centre to step in, let us look at the budgetary allocations of certain states with regard to their respective police forces.
For instance, in a state like Odisha, once a severely Maoist-affected state, the budget allocation for police expenditure as a proportion of the state budget was only 1.1% in fiscal 2015-16. Insurgency-affected Manipur, on the other hand, had the highest allocation of 8.7% (not accounting for Union territories). Thus, state budgets for police forces have widely varied across the country, and not necessarily according to the conditions of law and order and/or insurgency.
Although the 14th Finance Commission had increased the states’ share of Central taxes from 32 to 42%, clearly states appear to have needed a guiding and helping hand and coordination in both policy and practical terms.
The Road Ahead
Perhaps the correct way to approach the MPF is to look at it as an important building block. It may be unreasonable to ask a police force to be accountable first and then be given the capacity to ensure law and order and the safety of citizens. If the police fail in preserving law and order, that would be their biggest failure in terms of accountability and responsibility towards citizens.
In fact, the MPF, as has been noted above, gives sufficient indicators of police reforms aimed also at attitude and practice. It may be recalled that in his address to the directors general of police in Guwahati on November 30, 2014, the Prime Minister had talked about “SMART police”. Such a SMART police is “strict yet sensitive; modern and mobile; alert and accountable; reliable and responsive; techno-savvy and trained.”
It seems, therefore, that much of what the writer is talking about is well within the purview of what has been designed. The MPF may be added to, built upon, etc. But there does not appear to be any reason to take away from it or conclude that it has set the wrong priorities for itself.
For details about the MPF scheme, please see our data infographic: “A Rs 25,060 crore Scheme to Modernise India’s Police Forces”