Allthough the Karnataka PCA was established over six months ago, it is largely inadequate.
Recently chief minister Siddaramaiah censured Karnataka's top police officials for failing to act against their erring personnel. While Siddaramaiah’s persuasion may yield some results, the process to address police misconduct in Karnataka itself lies in tatters. Six years after the Supreme Court’s Prakash Singh judgment, which asked for creating independent oversight boards to curb police misconduct, the governor of Karnataka passed an ordinance in June, 2012 to comply with it, and established the State and District Police Complaints Authority (“PCA”). The ordinance was later replaced by the Karnataka Police (Amendment) Act, 2012 (“Act”). The PCA’s remained on paper from August 2012 until September 2013, when certain appointments were
finally made to this body.
As per the Act, the PCA in Karnataka shall consist of five officials, namely: a retired high court judge who will be the chairperson, a retired civil servant; one member from civil society, a senior woman IPS officer, and a Additional General of Police (Grievance) as the secretary of the PCA. On September 2, 2013 the government appointed retired high court judge M P Chinnappa as the chairperson of PCA. The government also appointed retired additional chief secretary Abhay Prakash, IGP Alok Kumar and IGP Malini Krishnamurthy.
It is evident from the above that the Karnataka PCA overwhelmingly comprises either retired government servants or police officers. Two out of the five members are police officers, thus posting a cloud over the independence of the PCA. Having a retired judge chair, each of these commissions further tend to bureaucratise the process, introducing legal jargon and technical procedures.
There is just one female member in the PCA. Although this satisfies the legal mandate, it is still inadequate in a state where rape and abuse in police custody are highly under-reported. The appointment of the Additional General of Police by the government is by nomination, which is problematic because it is not based on a selection process or on merit. Ironically, the most rigorous process for appointment to the PCA is for the civil society member who is to be selected through a committee comprising of the State Human Rights Commission, Lokayukta and Karnataka Public Service Commission. Unsurprisingly, this appointment has not yet been made in Karnataka.
But what is more unforgivable is that the provisions pertaining to the members of the PCA, barring the Chairperson and the civil society member, are in contravention of the Supreme Court's ruling. The PCA's purpose is to act as an independent oversight body with comprehensive powers, which can hold police officials accountable. But its current composition defeats this purpose.
The PCA is mandated to look into “complaints against officers of the rank of Superintendent of Police and above and take cognizance of allegations of serious misconduct by the police officers which would include incidents involving death, grievous hurt or rape in police custody.” Although the Act has granted these powers, it is of little use because the Karnataka PCA is a mere recommendatory body. Such a provision has been legislated into existence even while the Supreme Court had specifically directed that PCA findings be binding.
Furthermore, the office of the PCA is located at the Police Headquarters in the DG&IG office building at Bangalore. The government has not applied much thought to obvious intimidation and hostility likely to be faced by citizens who want to file complaints. Independent funding of the PCA is crucial. But the Karnataka Act makes no mention of how its PCA will be funded. Such funding must be independent and not a part of the police budget. Preferably, it should be aptproved by the legislature and administered by the PCA, with an obligation to report spending in the annual reports.
Even though the Karnataka PCA was established over six months ago, it is largely unknown to its citizens. The lack of public awareness once again defeats the purpose of the PCA. Critics argue that several mechanisms already exist to examine police misconduct. But there are no specialised independent bodies to oversee the police. A culture of impunity has been cultivated by leaving violations unpunished. Serious political will could execute the underlying spirit of the Prakash Singh judgment.
(The writer is a research associate at Centre for Law and Policy Research, Bangalore)