Implement overdue police reforms

A thin silver lining to the dark cloud of shame that hangs over the republic following the gangrape incident in Delhi on December 16, is that it has brought the full weight of public opinion to bear upon the long-pending issue of police reforms. It’s shocking but true that reports of several high-powered commissions and detailed guidelines of the Supreme Court on this vital issue, have been ignored by successive governments at the Centre and in the states.

Over three decades ago in 1979, after the Janata government was swept to power in Delhi following the massive rejection of the Emergency imposed upon the nation by the Congress party in 1975-77, a National Police Commission (NPC) produced eight reports, dozens of topic-specific recommen-dations and also a Model Police Act to replace the Police Act, 1861 whose purpose and intent was to serve the interests of the British Raj by keeping the natives in their place through brute force. Shockingly, despite sustained pressure by citizens and the judiciary for over 35 years, there’s been no progress in implementing the NPC recommendations to curb the criminal excesses and persistent dereliction of duty by the police in Delhi and the state capitals.

In 1996, two public-spirited former directors-general of police filed a PIL (public interest litigation) in the Supreme Court praying for a directive to the Central and state governments to implement the NPC report. In 2006, the apex court  delivered a judgement requiring the respondents to implement seven directives — establishment of State Security Commissions (SSCs) to ensure that governments don’t exercise unwarranted influence or pressure on the police; appoint  DGPs (directors-general) in the states through merit-based, transparent processes for minimum terms of  two years; ensure that other police officers on operational duties (including superintendents of police in charge of districts and police stations) are also provided a minimum tenure of two years; separate the investigation and law and order maintenance functions of the police; establish Police Establishment Boards (PEBs) in every state to decide transfers, postings, promotions and other service-related matters of police officers; establish Police Complaints Authorities in each state and Union territory; establish a National Security Commission (NSC) in Delhi to prepare a panel for selection and placement of chiefs of the Central Police Organisations (CPO) — by January 3, 2007.

Since then despite repeated extensions being granted by the apex court and several contempt petitions, politicians cutting across all parties and ideologies, have refused to comply with the seven directives of the Supreme Court. Clearly, this stalemate is unacceptable. An immediate step should be prompt action on the NPC recommendations and the seven directives of the Supreme Court. There is plenty the apex court can do including issuing show-cause contempt notices to chief ministers, and/or threatening to close down the courts if its writ is not enforced. In the tragic rape case of the Delhi braveheart as in most cases of gender rights violation, the police has been proven uncaring and villainous. This is the time for the Central and state governments to be shaken out of their torpor to transform the police into a people-friendly protection force.

Politicians’ new happy hunting ground

The ten-year jail sentence imposed upon former Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala and his grandson Ajay — leaders of the family-run political party Indian National Lok Dal — by a special CBI court on January 22, is an exemplary, if belated, endorsement of child rights in a society in which the future of the world’s largest cohort of 480 million children is a low national priority. The son of former deputy prime minister Devi Lal and an incumbent member of the state legislative assembly, Chautala has ruled Haryana (pop. 25 million) — arguably India’s most educa-tionally backward and crime-infested state — as chief minister for four terms. During his last term (1999-2005) he “brazenly” appointed over 3,206 unqualified primary teachers in state government schools through the simple expedient of substituting their names for teachers who had duly passed the qualifying exams and interviews. All this for private gain, in consideration for bribes aggregating a reported Rs.100 crore.

It’s part of the folklore of corruption in socialist India that teacher recruitment, transfer and promotion pay-offs are routine in every state of the Union where teacher’s salaries — substantially increased by the Sixth Central Pay Commission (2008) — are paid by state governments. This has led to unchecked malpractices which explain why learning outcomes in government primaries countrywide are so poor. According to the Annual Status of Education Report 2012 of the highly-respected NGO Pratham, over half (51.8 percent) of class V students in rural (mainly government) primaries cannot intelligently read class II texts, and 72.5 percent cannot complete simple division sums which they should have learned in class II. Chautala’s conviction exposes the huge damage caused to vulnerable children of under-privileged households, obliged to send their children to (state) government schools shunned by the educated middle class.

The future of millions of children in Haryana has been blighted by Chautala’s blatant interference with the public education system, during the seven years he intermittently served as chief minister. And it can be safely assumed that opportunistic interference with education comes naturally to the state’s political class across all party labels and ideologies. This assertion is supported by ASER 2012 which indicates that the number of class V children unable to read class II texts in Haryana has increased by 5 percent in 2012. With elementary education standards trapped in a downward spiral, little wonder this state has become notorious for criminality, gender crimes, female infanticide (Haryana has the country’s most skewed gender ratio), human trafficking, molestation and rape.

With licence-permit-quota raj which bedevilled Indian industry for four decades having migrated to education, Judge Vinod Kumar’s stiff jail sentences for Chautala and his henchmen will hopefully serve the useful purpose of restraining politicians and bureaucrats across the country from regarding the under-developed Indian education system as their new happy hunting ground.