Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Pune Blasts and India's Policing Woes

Here's an OpEd on the recent Pune blast and the policing woes published in Pioneer on August 11, 2012.


When will India have a police force worth the name? A recent study, shelved as usual, exposes the glaring lapses which were exploited by the planners of the Pune blasts last week.

Following the Pune blasts, India’s Home Minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde, gave the usual assurance about the “serious” nature of the incident and how the Government of India has launched “investigations.” One is used to hearing such statements after terror attacks but what do they mean? More pertinent is the question, what is the government doing about some of the institutional reforms so badly needed to stop such attacks.

For the full article, click here.



Various reports have brought out the inadequacy of the police forces, including that of the paramilitary, in terms of both quantity and quality of men and officers. The training capacity is woefully inadequate too. A study done in 2010 by Observer Research Foundation for the Integrated Defence Staff, Government of India, Navigating Near: Non Traditional Security Threats to India, 2022, highlighted the huge deficiency that India faces as also made recommendations to address some of the gaps.

India’s low police-population ration — a major indicator of law and order infrastructure — is low at 130 policemen for 100,000 as against a global average of 270:100,000. Mexico has 491.8, Saudi Arabia at 386.5 and Belgium at 357.5 per 100,000 persons, these countries fare better than India even if we do not compare with the world’s best.

While the quality of policing is critical, not having enough personnel is far worse. India’s sanctioned police strength has remained at pretty much the same for decades. In Gujarat, for example, the sanctioned strength has not been upgraded since 1960; the shortage has been dealt with through ad hoc appointments.

Constables recruited in Gujarat in recent years have been taken on as “lokrakshak” and are paid a meagre salary of `3,500. The Government cannot expect very much with such an approach.

The situation remains the same in many other States. As of 2008, the sanctioned strength of police personnel in India was 17,46,215 whereas only 14,78, 888 have been recruited, leaving a critical gap of 267,000. The then Home Minister, P Chidambaram, stated that India faced a shortage of 400,000 policemen and promised to remedy the situation by 2012.

Training and capacity building represent similar depressing scenarios. For a 2.8 million-strong police-paramilitary force, India has only 62 training institutions for central police forces and 170 for state police forces. And India has a total of 9,589 instructors in states, central police and paramilitary organisations; 4,989 for indoor training and instructions and 4,600 for outdoor activities. This would correspond to not more than 50,000 policemen who can be trained per year, meaning that the recruitment needs of 2012 cannot be met for almost a decade.

The reality is also that Indian policemen do not go through any training during their whole career. The basic instructions they get at the time of joining service is about all the training they get in their entire careers. The basic training programme does not last more than three months, including weapons training, dealing with law and order problems, rioting, terrorism, radiological accidents, cyber-crimes, financial scams, illegal money transfers, disaster management besides learning how to write FIRs, investigate cases, prepare court documents and brief public prosecutors, and dealing with the media. Worse, the trainers at the state training institutions are the most demotivated lot who normally treat training assignments as punishment postings.

A status check on police commando forces is equally pertinent. The National Policy on Police Training demands that every state is tasked to train a minimum of 8.5 per cent of the total force as Quick Response Teams (QRT) and Commando units. QRT are meant to be vital given that they are the first respondent to any terror attacks. The Mumbai Police now plans to have “Response Ten” units — three to four commandos armed with bullet-proof vests and assault rifles — at each police station in the city. The Response Ten units are essentially culled out of the existing QRTs and commando units and with India having barely 4,300 such personnel, this is going to be a tough call. India’s capacity to impart training in this regard is also limited with only four training centres available run by the paramilitary forces.

Shortage of force is not a new phenomenon although the government has handled the issue in an ad hoc fashion. In terms of strengthening the quantity aspect, the central government has been sanctioning and creating new battalions of central paramilitary forces. Additional companies and battalions offer no real solution. This is because local police forces are familiar with local surroundings and the people are more efficient than the CPMFs. Hence, strengthening of police force, both in quantity and quality, is the need of the hour.

Another issue particularly relevant in India’s fight against terrorism is intelligence. While the state intelligence agencies are not adequately equipped in terms of training and therefore not suitable, there is also the issue of lack of technical support and resource availability that affect the intelligence-gathering capability of the state intelligence agencies. The value of human intelligence cannot be overemphasized, but technical intelligence is beginning to assume a particularly important role in the backdrop of advancing technologies which the terrorists are using today. The central government has no shortage of resources although this cannot be said for the state agencies.

In addition, there are problems with communication, connectivity and information sharing, which was once again a glaring weakness exposed through the Pune blast. One, there is the absence of an information grid linking up state and federal police forces with police stations as the lowest common denominator. While NATGRID serves to address some of these issues, the formation of a Crime and Criminal Tracking Network System is long overdue. While giving the IB Endowment lecture in 2009, then Home Minister Chidambaram brought out some of these issues saying “there is no system of data storage, data sharing and accessing data. There is no system under which one police station can talk to another directly. There is no record of crimes or criminals that can be accessed by a Station House Officer, except the manual records relating to that police station.”

Three years later, the situation is not significantly different.

Lastly, political interference, lack of autonomy of the police and utter absence of police accountability are serious hindrances to developing a professional force. The current police functioning under the grip of state government has led to gross abuses, resulting in erosion of the rule of law and loss of credibility as a professional organisation.

For instance arbitrary transfers and suspensions have affected the function of intelligence gathering. Meanwhile, the police should be made more accountable to the rule of law and the people through State Assemblies and the Parliament and not to the ruling political party. In an effort to insulate police from the political masters, the National Police Commission recommended that similar state-level bodies be set up. This is yet to be implemented given the strong resistance from political parties.

Unless the new Home Minister becomes live to some of these issues, India’s preparedness to deal with internal security would continue to be weak.

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