The general ineptitude of the Indian police and the corruption within is a matter well known. Nonetheless, certain aspects of the working of the Indian police and the criminal justice system, which highlight the urgency of the reforms, are not that commonly known.
The criminal justice system in India works in two ways. The first is on the basis of a complaint case on which the Magistrate, after going through the material submitted by the complainant, issues summons to the accused and proceeds to conduct their criminal trial. These are known as complaint cases. The Magistrate, on his own information, can also issues summons and undertake trial. This also would fall in the category of complaint cases. The distinguishing characteristic of complaint cases are that material against the accused are produced directly in the court with the role of the police marginalised in the process thereto.
The other category is what is known as police cases. Here the police conducts investigation and submits material on such basis before the court on which trial takes place. Where the information disclosed to the police reveals the commission of cognisable offence, it is mandatory for the police to register a case or what is commonly known as an FIR. Cognisable offences are those where punishment, ordinarily speaking, is in excess of three years.
It would be obvious that complaint cases can be filed directly in courts only where the matter is such that it is amenable to documentary proof and evidence as also limited number of oral witness and testimony and doesn’t entail investigation, probe or inquiry as such to establish or bring out the guilt.
As such, nearly all the serious criminal matters are such as are police cases. Or, in other words, regarding criminal offences, especially the serious ones, criminal justice is dependent upon police investigation. The rule for conviction is that the material brought forth by the prosecution should be free of any reasonable doubt as regards the guilt of the accused.
Now, taking the two – namely that criminal justice in serious criminal offences is dependent upon police investigation and that for conviction, the material has to be such as is free from any manner of reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the accused and combining these two with the fact of the police ineptitude in India and their gross corruption – it doesn’t take much effort to see that on sheer merits of the matter, it becomes very difficult to bring the guilty to justice in India.
This is in fact the reality in much of the countryside in India. The rich and powerful seldom are brought to justice for their criminal acts unless until they have richer and more powerful rivals who can activate the criminal justice system. Or where – on account of public opinion and media coverage, generally the two going together – the courts are brought under pressure to convict.
To begin with, the Indian police would be extremely reluctant to register an FIR even though it is mandatory on their part to do so if the information discloses the commission of a cognisable offence. Once an FIR is registered, it is again mandatory on their part to submit a final report after investigation. Refusal to register the FIR saves them from straining themselves. FIRs are refused to be registered particularly where the police does not see much chances of milking any money or advantage from the parties involved or where the parties concerned are again weak and unsupported which again, generally, go together.
Where an FIR is registered and an investigation undertaken; it can be easily influenced through corruption, bribery or influence to make it be undertaken in such a way that – given the condition that conviction shall take place only where the material does not reveal any manner of reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the accused – it would be rendered amenable to plenty of reasonable doubts during the course of the trial in the court.
In fact, the gross tragedy of the system is that given the bullock-cart age, method and technology in which much of the Indian police still works; even if at times, most exceptionally, sincere work is put in to gather material during investigation; such material is always open to creation of reasonable doubts on part of any sincerely probing lawyer during the course of the trial on behalf of the accused.
Barring investigation under special Acts, such as Prevention of Corruption Act, investigation is generally undertaken by policemen at the lowermost rungs of the ladder.
The lowest level of policemen are recruited as constables. In many of the states in India, the amount of money that is required to be paid as bribe money for getting recruited as constables is a hefty sum and well known in advance. Constables recruited in such manner have their foremost objective to first of all compensate for the money paid as such bribe money.
Again, lucrative Station Houses, often, have huge amounts of bribery and corruption money paid to ensure transfer to such Station Houses. Bribe money is generally – to achieve such transfers – paid to the superior police officers or to the politicians.
Or, in other words, the men who actually conduct the investigation, generally speaking, have their very inception in the police force rooted and their subsequent journey in the police force grafted in corruption and malpractices.
The same system still to some extent worked under the British largely because the supervisory senior officers under the British rule were still far more efficient and of greater integrity and character than the present ones.
In an area of increasing materialism and consumerism, where the salary paid to the senior officers are still astoundingly low; it doesn’t come as much surprise that most of the senior officers in the police would become vulnerable to monetary influences sooner or later in their career.
If still, by some fluke or exceptional chance, there remained a honest or sincere police officer in the senior ranks, otherwise impossible in the low ranks; the level of political rule is such as would ensure that such officer was confined to such posting as would effectively take him out of the system.
If to all this is combined the further maladies of the court trial in the Indian scenario; especially the propensity of the witnesses to be bought out or otherwise be open to other influences; – it doesn’t take much genius to see that criminal justice system in India has fallen apart.
The mirage that is created of the criminal justice system working is on account of the cases highlighted by the media or where the courts under pressure, or the law enforcement agencies again under pressure, have been forced to give acceptable conclusions. As against any one or two such cases where results have come in under pressure; there would be literally thousands and millions of cases where nothing would take place on the merits of the matter except other than victimisation of the innocent and unsupported.
Police reforms are therefore critically and most urgently required.
Certain reforms are obvious on the face of it which simply require government investment of money, time and effort.
First of all, the salaries of the police force have to be increased. This would be an infrastructural investment in the Indian society and its future of development as important, if not more, than any other infrastructural investment. Along with then, under the Acts and provisions which are already applicable; corruption in the police force, as in fact everywhere else, is required to be severely dealt with and proceeded against.
The levels of recruitment to the police force have to be confined to either one, or at the most, two modes and levels. The most preferable would be the system where the entry to the police force would be at the lowest level with the potential on part of the entrant to rise to the top. This is the system in most of the developed countries. This would give the incentive of status, pride and honour to the members of the police at the lowest level which would contribute significantly to curb corruption which often, also, is resorted to, to compensate for such lack of status, pride and honour.
If one level of entry is not practicable in the Indian context; then it should be confined to just two level of entries. One at the junior level, and the other at the senior level. Right now, there is one entry as constables, another entry as sub inspectors, yet another entry as deputy superintendent of police/ACPS and then a further entry as superintendents of police/DCPs. This tremendous hierarchy of induction and recruitment creates such a wide gulf of status between the senior most and the lower and lowermost levels; that the tendency to compensate for lack of status and rank at lower and lowermost levels through bribe and graft is particularly strengthened and entrenched.
Then there has to be investment on part of the government to suitably train the police force, right from the low level to the top, in state of art forensic skills, technology and method and manners of investigation besides of course in the working of the legal system applicable.
Police Station Houses have to be updated and the facilities to the police personnel given on a basis as to enable them to live a life of dignity on their official salaries. If not, underhand dealings and earnings on part of the police force takes the argument, at times, of being a near necessity; specially in metropolitan centres where cost of living is high.
Manner of recruitment, even at the low level, has to be such as to be worthy of status and dignity of an officer still of police as is in the case of USA. Only then, can realistic expectations be entertained of the members of the police force at the lowest level behaving and discharging their duties in a manner courteous and responsible.
All the above steps are such as can be undertaken without any new legislations. They simply require investment and constructive activity on part of the government. These are most necessary. A society without a suitably working criminal justice system is a society without future.