By Pradeep S Mehta
The need for good governance has never been more urgent. It’s high time India not only implements the SC’s orders in relation to civil service and police reforms, but also makes them democratic.
Many officials in the Uttar Pradesh government do not carry any visiting cards because they are not sure whether they will hold the same position the next day or not as there’s a possibility of becoming a victim of an arbitrary transfer system. This malady has been addressed by numerous committees, which have recommended reforms for the civil services and police. Alas, all of them continue to gather dust.
The matter has also been escalated to the apex court, which ordered reforms in the said services through two historic judgments: T.S.R. Subramanyam vs UOI (2013) and Prakash Singh vs UOI (2006). The apex court even laid down time periods for their implementation and setting up of a monitoring committee for the purpose in the latter case. Despite the lapse of a number of years nothing has moved on the ground.
India is world famous for red tape that has marred its bureaucracy. Despite having the best of the programmes and policies on paper and the requisite funding, the implementation in most cases remains shoddy. The “unease” of doing business in India is emblematic of this malady. Thus, India continues to miss the bus to various national and international developmental goals and targets. It fails in achieving its economic potential.
The second Administrative Reform Commission (2008), Hota Committee (2004) and Santhanam Committee (1962) laid down important recommendations for reforming the civil services. While the governments of the day turned a blind eye to them, the Supreme Court in T.S.R. Subramanyam case, considering them, issued directives to Central and state governments to undertake civil service reforms by establishing independent Civil Service Board (CSB) at Central and state level to suggest on matters relating to postings, transfers, promotions, disciplinary proceedings, fixation of minimum tenure, provision of compulsory written orders from administrative superior, politicians and other authorities.
The SC undertook these steps to preserve the integrity, fearlessness and independence of civil servants that is essential for good governance. In a democratic country like India, the impartial civil servants have not only to be accountable to the government of the day, but also to the Constitution of India, on which they take oath of loyalty. The SC had fixed a period of three months for implementing the said directives, yet to no avail.
On July 21, 2009, the Supreme Court declined to rule on contempt for non-implementation of its directives relating to police reforms. The Chief Justice of India observed: “Not a single state government is willing to cooperate. What can we do?” This helplessness and exasperation of the top court of the country surfaced during the monitoring for implementation of its judgment on police reforms in the Prakash Singh case. In India, police happens to be the most distrusted public service.
Their performance can be gauged from the increased rate of crime and law and order violation on one hand, while existing brutality, torture, extra-judicial executions, lack of due process, impunity, corruption, bias, discrimination, public fear and poor all round performance.
The root cause of this lies in lack of police reforms. The archaic Police Act of 1861 continues to govern policing. Despite recommendations from National Police Commission (1979-81), Julio Ribeiro Committee (1998, 1999), the Padmanabhaiah Committee (2000) and the Model Police Act of the Soli Sorabjee Committee (2005) reforms were not undertaken. This led the SC in the Prakash Singh case to lay down seven directives to Centre and state governments to kickstart the process of police reforms. Briefly, they are: Constitution of State Security Commission, appointment process and minimum tenure for DGP, minimum tenure for other police officers, separation of investigation and law and order functions, setting up of Police Establishment Board, Police Complaint Authority and National Security Commission.
However, Commonwealth Human Right Initiative’s Compliance Report of 2014 depicts that either the states have not complied with the directives fully, or the compliance is against the letter and spirit of SC’s order, vitiating the very purpose behind the said directive.
The judgment is the first tangible step towards police reform. Indeed now the international practice is moving towards “democratic policing”, which means that police is accountable not only to the government but to a wider network of agencies and organisations, working on behalf of the interests of the people, within a human rights framework. Further, global practices also encourages “diversification” in police; in India the number of increasing crimes against women — the representation of women in police being around six per cent — and ethnic minorities also bring into sharp focus the need to make the police force more representative.
Today India stands at a turning point where we need transformational changes at the speed of light as more than 65 per cent of our population is below 35 years of age. The younger impatient India needs to rapidly meet its developmental needs. An increasingly globalising economy also puts the thrust for international competitiveness of the governance system.
While good governance is the ultimate virtue, its need has never been as urgent. Therefore, it’s high time that India not only implements the SC’s orders in relation to civil service and police reforms urgently, but also makes them democratic and the quality of their service delivery to be upgraded to match international standards.
As French director and one of the founders of the French New Wave, Francois Truffaut said: “The film of tomorrow will not be directed by civil servants of camera, but by artists for whom shooting a film constitutes a wonderful and thrilling adventure.”
The writer is secretary-general CUTS International