Lead by example

Police reforms

The Union home minister used a picturesque but blunt language while addressing assembled Directors-General of Police last week. He chastised them for allowing their officers to be kicked around with impunity like footballs because they had failed to establish Police Establishment Boards to make postings and transfers as recently advised by the Centre.

Transfers have been used as a form of punishment, with officers being moved from post to post, sometimes within the space of a few weeks or months, even days, thus undermining the system and disrupting morale. This has been going on for years as a device for harassing and punishing honest officials and privileging favourites.
Why did the Centre dawdle so long in the matter of implementing police commission reports, including the Supreme Court’s directives? Now that it has woken up to its responsibility it needs to crack down hard and withhold police grants if minimal reforms are not carried out by errant states, notwithstanding the law and order being in the state list.

More purposefully, the Centre should introduce the full panoply of reforms in Delhi and other Union Territories which are directly under it. Unless the Centre sets the pace, the states will not follow. Mere homilies will not do.

Another forward step was registered last week when the Centre responded to the Chief Justice of India’s statement that the way to fight corruption is to confiscate the properties of those convicted in such cases. The law minister took the cue and added that as recommended by the Administrative Reforms Commission, which he had headed, the Centre would consider amending Articles 309, 310 and 311 of the Constitution to facilitate prosecution of civil servants and do away with the current requirement for prior permission.

As of 153 cases awaiting sanction for prosecution, 72 have been pending for periods between one and more than three years. Delay is often tantamount to denial and while it is true that honest officers must be protected from harassment, the prior sanction rule or ‘single directive’ as it is known, has been abused. Coupled with a Public Servants (Forfeiture of Property) Bill, implementation of the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act, and whistleblower and victim protection legislation we should be able to deal more effectively with corruption.

Here again, the Centre needs to bestir itself to send an instrument of ratification of  the UN Convention on Corruption which it signed nearly two years ago and incorporate its provisions in the national law. This has been pending as no one seems to be able to identify the nodal ministry that must act. Cynics suggest that the real reason could be that powerful political and bureaucratic forces do not wish to see such potent and far reaching instruments in the hands of the government. 

Rise of Naxalism

Lax and corrupt administration coupled with weak policing is among the reasons why Naxalism flourishes. The prime minister told the DG police conclave that the Maoists remain a pervasive and deeply disturbing security and development threat. The Maoists have declared war on the state and have been emboldened to strike at will in certain zones, displaying increasing sophistication in their tactics and weaponry. They are also trying to make common cause with all manner of insurgent and underground formations.
Steps are being taken to enhance counter-Naxal capabilities but, as is well understood, while maintaining law and order has its rightful place, socio-economic reforms must kick in. This remains a weak link and a reading of some governors’ annual reports on Fifth Schedule areas (obtained through the RTI process) offers no reassurance.

The Constitution enjoins the governors to submit an annual report to the President for the “peace and good government” of these areas. The latter in turn may issue appropriate directives for the better administration of these areas.

It would appear that the governors have no independent mechanism to discharge this function and are entirely dependent on the state administrations. The State’s Tribes Advisory Councils come out as weak instruments. There is in these ‘governors’ reports’ some bald and routine narration of facts but no analysis, few recommendations and no reference in the Andhra, Orissa and Maharashtra reports to the Naxal problem or specific socio-economic programmes.

The reports appear pretty worthless and constitute a fraud on the Constitution. The governors, Central and state governments, the state legislature and parliament are all equally complicit and the Fifth Schedule has been reduced to a ‘tamasha’.

The so-called austerity drive too has been poorly handled as a short term gimmick. Austerity is the wrong word. Bureaucrats, ministers and politicians need to avoid ostentation while being enabled to function efficiently and with dignity. Italian marble, vaastu toilets and extravagant living constitute vulgar exhibitionism.

Ministers and ex-MPs clinging on to their former bungalows should simply not be countenanced and those trying to pull rank should be dealt with firmly. Each defaulter says, ‘what about the others?’ The answer is to deal strictly with all, starting with the highest. The example set, others will soon fall in line.

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