Police powers: Redefining territories

There cannot be any island of sovereignty in the state and no territory can be bey-ond the scope of law.

The jurisdiction of police forces in any state is coextensive with that state and there are no forbidden areas. However, recent incidents in the campuses of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi and Jadavpur University, West Bengal are opening a new debate to redefine the territories of the jurisdiction.

Police forces of the state derive their strength from the State List of the Constitution and various statutes including Code of Criminal Procedure and Police Acts. This is not a mere question of exercising police powers but the important underlying  issue is whether police forces of the state or nation can be oblivious to the fact that incubators of jihadi ideology are being established in the educational institutions. The video of JNU incident where jihadi slogans were shouted may need an investigation to identify actors but prima facie it’s a depiction of jihadi ideology.

The role of the police in student agitations has been defined by various departmental guidelines and instructions. Police forces have been extremely cautious in dealing with the student agitations and have exhibited so far extreme tolerance but the incidents in the two campuses cannot be brought in the simple category of the student unrest and a nation like ours, facing hostile elements sitting across border, cannot turn a blind eye to this.

Now coming to the police powers, the recent demand and clamour to create islands of the sovereignty where the state and the state machinery have no access, are beyond any reasonable thinking and contrary to the statutory provisions. The Code of Criminal Procedure lays specific duties on the police force as per Section 149, which states: “Every police officer may interpose for the purpose of preventing, and shall, to the best of his ability, prevent, the commission of any cognizable offence”

Thus, there is a duty mandating a police officer to prevent the commission of cognizable offence by interposing in any such design or act. The plain reading will indicate that all acts necessary to prevent cognizable offence are part of the wider import of Section 149 and shall also include the entry in places wherever there is a suspicion of commission of a cognizable offence and authority is derived by the police in accordance of Section 100 and 165 of CrPC.  It requires no emphasis that the duty has to be performed and powers are conferred to perform the duties.

Delinking of duty from power will only create vacuum of authority. There had been repeated demands and repeated directions to restrict access to the police or fettering the powers of the police to enter certain places. This has created uncertainty among the police officers and restrained their actions and consequently, service deficit.

Universal application

Instances of certain untoward incidents taking place in judicial establishments in Chennai and Bengaluru and later police officers being indicted is well within our knowledge. Policies have to have a universal application, long term vision and must be in accordance with the constitutional provisions. Directions based on a sporadic thinking and the contemporary consideration only blunt the police powers and defeat the purpose.

Directions given to the police must be followed by amendments in the Code of Criminal Procedure.  In the famous case of Joginder Kumar v State of Uttar Pradesh on April 25, 1994 the Supreme Court specifically mentioned: “The above requirements shall be followed in all cases of arrest till legal provisions are made in this behalf.  These requirements shall be in addition to the rights of the arrested persons found in the various police manuals.”

It is imperative on the part of legal thinkers to provide changes in the CrPC and redefine police powers if need be.  However, there cannot be any island of the sovereignty in the state and no territory can be the beyond the scope of the law.

In the famous case of Ashabai Machindra Adhagale v State Of Maharashtra & Ors on February 12, 2009, the  Supreme Court emphasised that it is the duty of police to register the case even if there is any suspicion of cognizable offence. In the JNU case, there is far more than a suspicion and the investigation cycle has to be completed by the police to find out the truth which is the basic purpose of the investigation. 

These are the statutory responsibilities on the policemen and they are duty bound to perform the statutory duties without fear and favour. Harmonious analysis of all these events will indicate that these demands are motivated and with the purpose to distract and deter police forces.

It is high time that these issues be dealt with statutory thrust and as state-owned actions and not the actions of the police alone, to further ensure that the society gets effective police services which are fair, objective and in accordance of the law of the land.

(The writer is Additional Director General of Police, Karnataka)

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