India's Police Force: Who Will Clean The Rot Within

19/01/2015 7:00 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:24 AM IST
NOAH SEELAM via Getty Images
An Indian police salutes during the flag hoisting ceremony at India's Independence Day celebrations in Secunderabad, the twin city of Hyderabad, on August 15, 2012. Manmohan Singh used his Independence Day speech to promise to improve conditions for foreign investment in the country after a sharp downturn in economic growth. AFP PHOTO / Noah SEELAM (Photo credit should read NOAH SEELAM/AFP/GettyImages)

In a judgment delivered on 1 December 2014, State of M.P. & Ors. vs. Parvez Khan, the Indian Supreme Court observed that to be recruited into the police force, a person must be of impeccable character and integrity, and should have no criminal antecedents. The Court held that a candidate who has been acquitted or discharged in a criminal case would not qualify, for it cannot be presumed that he was completely exonerated. Perhaps, the alarming levels of corruption and transgression in the police force compelled the Court to prescribe a high standard of rectitude for entry into the law enforcement agency.

The moot question though is, can this stop the decay and provide the much-needed corrective, when misconduct and criminality in the line of duty receives patronage, encouragement and rewards? Let us examine two scenarios.

In May 1987, as communal rioting continued in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, a platoon of the 41st battalion of Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) executed a dastardly plan. Nineteen armed PAC personnel abducted a truckload of about 50 Muslim men from Hashimpura, shot them at point blank range and dumped the corpses in two canals. Twenty years later, in May 2007, 615 RTI applications filed by the victim families of the Hashimpura slaughter revealed, that the accused PAC personnel indicted for mass murder, abduction, criminal conspiracy continued to don the uniform and wield the gun. In September 1995, eight years after the custodial butchery, the PAC accused were merely suspended, and by the end of 1997, all of them had been reinstated.

No departmental inquiry or disciplinary action was ever initiated against any of the PAC accused. In the Annual Confidential Report of the PAC accused, obtained through RTI, there is not even a whisper that these men are being prosecuted for mass murder. Rather, the ACR gives glowing commendations to them, describing them as hard working, smart, disciplined and well behaved policemen. Few of them had even won laurels in wrestling for their battalion.

Twenty-seven years later, the criminal trial against the PAC accused is yet to conclude in a Sessions Court in Delhi. PAC men charged by the court of perpetrating the worst communal-custodial massacre in the history of independent India, continue in active armed service in Uttar Pradesh. The only minor irritant in the lives of the PAC accused is that occasionally they are required to travel to Delhi, to attend proceedings before the trial Court.

Over the past three decades, Congress, the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, and a remix of the same, have formed governments in Uttar Pradesh. While all of them made high-decibel proclamations of secularism and justice, no political regime disturbed the 'on-duty' status of the gun-toting PAC accused.

Although police is a state subject in the federal allocation of jurisdiction, the 'Gujarat model' subscribes to similar notoriety. In June 2004, Ishrat Jahan and three men were gunned down in an 'encounter' by the Gujarat police, on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. Nine years later, top-ranking police officers and four IB men have been chargesheeted by the CBI for abduction, cold-blooded murders pursuant to a criminal conspiracy. Arrayed as accused number four is Superintendent of Police, G.L. Singhal.

Singhal's favourite pastime though appears to have been recording audio stings. He has handed over to CBI investigators two pen drives containing audio recordings which exposed the following: round-the -clock surveillance of a young woman by illegal diversion of state machinery; the confabulations between the Advocate General of Gujarat, the accused cop, defence counsels and senior bureaucrats on how to derail judicial proceedings in the Ishrat Jahan encounter case, and a conversation promising high judicial office as a reward if the Central government affidavit filed before the Gujarat High Court labeled Ishrat Jahan a terrorist.

In February 2013, soon after his arrest, Singhal tendered his resignation from the Gujarat police. Intriguingly, even after the CBI filed a chargesheet against him for murder, the Gujarat government did not accept Singhal's resignation.

16th May 2014 is a milestone in Indian politics, as the BJP, led by Narendra Modi, secured a definitive electoral victory and seized power at the Centre. This date marks a turning point in GL Singhal's career too, as his suspension was revoked and he was reinstated as the Superintendent of Police, State Reserve Police, Gandhinagar. Ironically on the same date, the Indian Supreme Court acquitted six men accused of the attack on the Akshardham temple in Gujarat, and expressed anguish that the police had implicated innocent men and compromised the security of the nation. The judgment records details of torture, intimidation and coercion employed by the Investigating Officer--G.L. Singhal--to extract confessions, causing six innocent Muslim men to suffer incarceration for over a decade.

Singhal is not the only police officer charged with murder to have been reinstated, IPS officers Dinesh Amin, Vipul Aggarwal and Constable Anaju Chaudhary, too, have been rehabilitated.

Criminal prosecution for premeditated murders before a court of law does not operate as a bar to holding high office in the police establishment or political sphere. Thus merely changing the rules of entry, while allowing re-entry, will make little difference. Perhaps a starting point to cleansing the Indian police force would be to expel the trigger-happy "encounter specialists", weed out the communal minded, punish acts of torture and prejudice, castigate the wrong doers through strict accountability. To stem the rot, people's rights and freedoms must trump the convenient nexus between power and police.

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