The path leading to ‘encounters’

Gradual decline in quality of governance year after year, decade after decade

The path leading to ‘encounters’

Deterioration: The abnormal behaviour had become the new normal one; and it has been very difficult to change that mindset of the police now.

Gurbachan Jagat

Gurbachan Jagat
Former upsc chairman and former governor of Manipur

The newspapers these days are full of horrifying stories of individual violence, group violence, communal violence, etc. There are analysts by the dozens and many other professional police officers, administrators, judicial and defence officers who continue to write learned tomes on the causes of these crimes and solutions thereof.

It is like the story of the blind men and the elephant whose features they describe according to what they feel. Actually, today the position is that of a collective failure of the criminal justice system. The judiciary, the police, the civil administration and politicians are in no position to point fingers at each other. We have arrived at this situation through decades of maladministration and misgovernance in every sphere of life. If one looks back, one can see the gradual decline in the quality of governance year after year and decade after decade.

Today, when any major crime takes place, the immediate government response is to set up a special investigation team (SIT) to probe these crimes or, in some instances, these cases are transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the National Investigation Agency (NIA), etc. And often the high courts and the Supreme Court order the transfer of investigations from the state police forces to other organisations under their supervision.

This strategy of band-aids shifts the responsibility from the police stations and the state police to other institutions. It is the duty of the police stations and the state police to investigate and prosecute cases occurring within their jurisdiction. But because of a decline in the quality of investigation and prosecution and the subsequent loss of faith of the people in the local police, these measures are resorted to. Unfortunately, this leads to further deterioration in the professionalism of the state police.

How has this decline occurred? From the mid-1960s onwards, the state administrations and the police, in particular, have come under sustained attack of political establishments with the unstated aim of weakening this institution and bending it to follow the will of the ruling parties and not the rule of law.

This objective has been sought to be achieved through a system of selective appointments, transfers, rewards and punishment. These tactics of political masters have been to sideline officers of proven competence and integrity and give positions and importance to rogue elements in the police force. This has been done by every political party that has come to power in any state. As a result of this breakdown in hierarchy and internal discipline, the quality of professional work and integrity has gone down drastically. Officers have concluded that their future prospects lie in being in the good books of the political setup and not in following the standards of police protocols.

The result of poor investigation and prosecution can be seen in the abysmal drop in the conviction rate of serious crimes — murders, attempted murders, kidnappings, rapes, etc.

Another very important factor that has led to the decline in the working of the state police is the greater attention that they are called upon to pay to control terrorist activities and communal violence. It should be remembered here that decades earlier, the state police forces were not trained or well-equipped with weapons to fight terrorism of various kinds.

Various terrorist movements arose in Punjab and the tribal belts of Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Jharkhand. In addition to this, there were continuing problems in Jammu and Kashmir and the North East. At this point, it would be pertinent to understand that most of these movements took place because of nefarious objectives and roles of different political parties. Political parties, even groups within these parties, contributed to the origin and growth of these militant movements through various means. Although their objective might have been limited to their own political advancement, most of these movements got out of hand, forcing the police and security forces to combat them.

In this process, normal procedures and departmental rules were given the go-by and unorthodox and unlawful procedures were resorted to. In short, a culture of encounters, eliminations and disappearances developed. In addition to causing havoc among the people, they also resulted in causing a great harm to the professionalism and integrity of the police force. It may be noted here that some of these movements have been going on for decades and some were controlled after sometime. And it is natural an inference to make that all these unorthodox and unlawful methods were adopted by the forces with the overt and covert support of the Central and state governments. The Central Government has been named here because many of the states were under President’s Rule for a long time and so the directions naturally emanated from the Union Home Ministry.

The working of the police force under such circumstances further lost its ability to do its normal police duty of prevention, investigation and prosecution of criminal cases. The abnormal behaviour had become the new normal one; and it has been very difficult to change that mindset of the police now.

The institution of the police, its internal hierarchy and discipline have passed into the hands of the political setup and the police personnel are not fully answerable to their seniors or to the rule of law. This new nexus seem easier for the advancement of these officers and the achievement of goals of the political establishments. This breakdown of the police as an institution led to the loss of fear in the mind of criminals and loss of respect among citizens.

All this could be changed substantially if only the chief minister of a state wants to bring about a change. It is only a question of selecting the best officers in the civil services and the police and posting them where they can actively engage with the people and their problems and usher in good governance. Unlike development work, good governance does not need any financial cost. It is not a task that is beyond us and it is not that we are destined to suffer this maladministration and misgovernance. To quote Cassius from the play Julius Caesar:

The fault, dear Brutus,

Is not in our stars

But in ourselves, that

We are underlings.

Today, a pall of gloom and helplessness seems to have settled down over vast areas of this great country. All around us, we see the signs of decadence and disarray. We see pygmies in various fields of politics and administration — pygmies masquerading as great leaders and path-breakers. All around us, we see the masses toiling without hope, children in slums and other such colonies without clothes or shoes, without any access to education or basic health facilities — the worst thing is that there appears to be no silver lining in these dark clouds. There appears to be no visible response from the Centre and various state governments. Instead, new problems are being created, further testing the forces of law and order. The first scapegoats have already fallen (Assam) — more will follow.

It is difficult to find men and women on the visible horizon in whom we could invest hope for the immediate future. I could go on writing, but my own dictation depresses me.

I can only conclude by quoting these few lines from William Butler Yeats:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

PS: It would have been good for the morale of the security forces deployed in the North East and the people living there, had the Union Home Minister gone there as per his scheduled visit.

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