Police reforms book a breath of fresh air
Through his new book, Arvind Verma makes a positive contribution to police scholarship.
Some of Verma's analysis is in sharp contrast to prevalent wisdom which ignores
the negative role of police leadership in the current system.
K S Subramanian
reviews The Indian Police: A Critical Evaluation.
14 March 2006 -
Arvind Verma's book, The Indian Police: A Critical Evaluation, is well timed.
It's release coincided with a recent move by the Central Government which setup a narrowly conceived
committee to re-draft the Police Act of 1861, still in force.
The misdeeds and oppression, characteristic of the inherited police structure in
rural and urban India, came out sharply during the Emergency of 1975-77 and were
duly documented in the Shah Commission report. A reform process was initiated in
1977 outlined in detail in the eight reports of the National Police Commission
(1979-81) and in the report of the L P Singh Committee on the role of the
Intelligence Bureau (IB), the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the
Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). However, the Congress, which returned to
power in 1980, rejected all these reports. In 1984, the anti-Sikh riots
witnessed the participation of the police in the violence against the Sikhs.
Arvind Verma, The Indian Police: A Critical Evaluation (Regency Publications, New Delhi 2005) Pp. 287, Price Rs.750.
This was followed by its massive communalisation, leading up to the demolition
of the Babri Masjid in 1992, the Bombay violence in 1992-3 and the Gujarat
carnage in 2002, which witnessed the active participation and facilitation by
the police in the mass violence against minority communities. The criminal
justice system had collapsed almost completely in large parts of the country but
for some positive actions taken by the National Human Rights Commission and the
Supreme Court of India, especially with regard to the horrendous Best Bakery
Case in Gujarat. Governments led by both the major political formations in India
have notably neglected action on the needed police reforms. The present
government in New Delhi, however, made a symbolic gesture recently by
setting up a narrowly conceived committee to re-draft the Police Act of 1861,
still in force. This was a positive step, but it is well short of the comprehensive
reforms that are called for.
Arvind Verma's book, The Indian Police: A Critical Evaluation
brings a breath of
fresh air to discussions on police reforms in the country.
The author served as
a member of the Indian police Service (IPS) for a period of about 12 years in
Bihar from the late seventies. Unable to accept the 'abominable' conditions of
work, the politicisation of the service and averse to the 'form of policing' in
India, he left for academic pursuits abroad, while still a Superintendent of
Police in his state. He is currently associate professor of criminal justice at
the Indiana University in the US. The underlying thrust of his study is
far-reaching reforms to address the persistent crisis of the Indian police
Verma's broad conclusion in the book is that working with grass roots NGOs,
deployment of modern technology, replication of successful experiments abroad,
and above all, recognition of the importance of 'research as a vehicle of
change' are needed to modernize the Indian police. The emphasis on research as
the core of policing needs to be especially noted as relevant research of the
kind advocated in the book is conspicuous by its absence in India.
The book falls into three large parts. The first covers well trodden ground on
the organizational history and model of colonial policing in India and argues
that this 'police system is the frame that has to be broken to make the police
organization relevant to Indian society today.' The second examines the
managerial challenges of public order maintenance and the issues of crime,
corruption, politicisation and training. The need to control 'situational
discretion' by the construction of 'relevant data sets' and to eliminate the
'cultural indoctrination' that creates a gulf between the leadership and the
subordinates in the police are underscored. Verma addresses the cultural roots of
politicisation together with the problem of police accountability.
Arvind Verma on India Together
To serve and protect
Terrorism lessons from London
A uniform betrayal
Fighting crime on rails
The FIR mechanism
Rescuing the police force
The third and final part evaluates the work of the National Police Commission
(NPC) in an innovative and interesting manner. It attributes the 'failure' of
the Commission to accomplish its tasks to a variety of factors including its
composition, methodology, neglect of research, neglect of cross-country
experiences together with a flawed perception of the policy culture and
politico-administrative environment in the country. Verma makes a positive
contribution to police scholarship in this chapter in a way that has not been
attempted in this country before.
Looking at the challenges of public order scene in India, Verma
underlines the need for professionalism, technology and training but sees no
evidence of the police forces trying to address the issue. By the way, the NPC,
which had also gone into the issue of police discretion in public order
situations, had called for detailed guidelines to be issued, which has not been
done. The author's analysis of crime, its measurement and the use and misuse of
criminal statistics plus his call for better research and learning of lessons
from abroad is well taken. The brief evaluation of the work of the National
Crime Control Bureau (NCRB) could have been supplemented with a much-needed
assessment of the work of the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D),
the parent body of the NCRB.
Verma makes a fascinating analysis of the organizational features and the
cultural and managerial practices, which promote corruption, brutality and
politicisation in the police. He focuses on the elitist nature of the police
leadership, the politicisation of the department, its unaccountability to the
people and its outdated managerial practices, which have made corruption
endemic. Politicisation of the police, according to him, is the result of lack
of professionalism and accountability within the police organization. Political
misuse of the police is the direct result of internal organizational problems
and poor performance. When police indifference to citizen problems and personal
misbehaviour of officers become matters of public concern, it becomes necessary
for the politician in our democracy to intervene.
Independence brought no
fundamental changes for the police but it has dramatically transformed the
ruling elite. Empowered by democracy, people demand that politicians address
their grievances. His analysis of the conflict between democratic politics and
the authoritarian practices of the police leads the author to boldly state:
'politicisation of the police is the price (paid) for the democratic functioning
of the country' (p171). The author's analysis here is in sharp contrast to
prevalent wisdom, which tends to put all the blame on the political class,
ignoring the negative role of the police leadership, which, the author says, is
the key to the situation.
Verma then makes an interesting typology of the forms of 'political
interference' distinguishing between its public, general and special forms. The
public form is seen when the citizen seeks political help to get some police
action taken, which is neglected due to organizational mismanagement and police
indifference to the legitimate concerns of the citizen. The special form is seen
when the politician, with a vested interest or while seeking to make money,
intervenes with the police for some favour or the other on behalf of his client.
The general form is seen when the politician seeks to elicit the public support
essential to win the next election or protect criminals and power brokers from
police action or seeks to influence the internal management policies of the
police organization. These interventions occur because of weaknesses and
shortcomings of the police leadership.
That training in the police was neglected even twenty years after the report of the Committee on Police Training (1972) became clear to me while attending a training programme on social tensions at the National Institute of Rural Development, Hyderabad, in the mid-1990s.
During one of the sessions, a few 'surrendered Naxalites' who had been invited, were requested to share their experiences. They began with
a description of torture in police custody. As the description became more and more graphic, the atmosphere in the training hall slowly
The silence of the audience was suddenly broken when a senior woman IPS officer from the nearby National Police Academy, also
a participant, burst out loudly and uncontrollably at the participating Naxalites: "When I hear you people talk, I wish I had
brought my revolver!" With that, the session of the training programme came to an abrupt end.
-- K S Subramanian
Dialogue needed for reforms
In this analysis, the author neglects the detailed examination of the issue of
political intervention in the NPC reports. Further, political intervention in
police work in the recent period has been much more blatant and direct than the
author might imagine. When the Babri Masjid was about to be demolished, Kalyan Singh, the
Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh is reliably reported to have issued instructions
to S V M Tripathi, the state Director General of Police, that no police firing should
take place without his
orders. Tripathi reportedly complied by issuing written instructions
Again, late on 27 February 2002, the day before the anti-Muslim carnage
in Gujarat was to commence, Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat is reliably reported
to have told a meeting of top police and civilian officials that a major 'Bandh'
(agitation) was to take place in the state on 28 February to protest killing of
Hindus at Godhra the previous day and that the administration should
respect 'Hindu sentiments'. The officials would seem to have complied as
revealed by subsequent developments.
While the author's study is largely based on his experience in Bihar including
his evaluation of certain central establishments such as the NCRB, a critical
study of the role of the police in India today would need to include a review of
the role of central police agencies such as the IB, CBI and the central
paramilitary forces, which are playing an increasingly important role in law and
order management in the states. The role of the IB has come in for sharp
evaluation in recent studies. Two of them, for instance, are
M K Dhar's Open Secrets: India's Intelligence Unveiled, Manas Publishers, New Delhi, 2005,
and B Raman's Intelligence: Past, Present and Future, Lancer Publications, New Delhi, 2002.
The insights from these studies would need to be
incorporated in critical evaluations
of the Indian police.
Finally, it is clear from the record and from the observations of the British
themselves that the Indian police was created as an instrument of political
control and surveillance rather than as a mechanism for crime control and
service provision. The British often repeated what they had stated in 1859: that
the police in India are "all but useless for the prevention and sadly inefficient
for the detection of crime" and that with rare exceptions it was unscrupulous in
the exercise of its authority with a 'very general reputation for corruption and
oppression". With some effort, the British could have changed this situation but
did not. The Indian rulers who followed had, in turn, been 'no more than
faithful' to their British predecessors in retaining intact and expanding
further the political-repressive aspects of the legal and the police system in
On balance, Arvind Verma has done a service by writing this supple and scholarly book
at a time when it is truly 'now or never' for Indian police reforms.