Over 250 Rajasthan Police personnel proceeded on leave en masse on the eve of the arrival of Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in Jodhpur in October last, when he went there to inaugurate the new building of the Intelligence Bureau. Due to the absence of the policemen, the usual practice of presenting a guard of honour to the home minister on arrival at the airport, as per protocol, had to be given a go-by.
Two days earlier, on October 15, constable Pankaj Mishra of the Central Reserve Police Force was arrested in Jorhat (Assam) for posting objectionable matter against the prime minister and the union home minister, the top brass of the CRPF and even against the judiciary. He was dismissed the next day by the Commandant for persistent acts of indiscipline, under the provisions of the Constitution.
On July 23 last year, a constable of Delhi Police was suspended for touching two of his female colleagues inappropriately. According to available data, as many as 2,317 personnel of Delhi Police have been suspended between January 2014 and December 2017. Of these, 585 were suspended last year alone, and 63 were dismissed from service.
In 2014, 94 personnel were dismissed, while 77 were sacked in 2015 and 106 in 2016. Most of the cases of indiscipline relate to insubordination, misbehaviour with women colleagues or women complainants, non-registration of cases, faulty investigations and connivance with criminals, involvement in property deals and corruption.
Nearly 300 policemen were awarded major punishments, like demotion to a lower rank, stoppage of increment and even removal from service. The Delhi police commissioner has, by his strict action against the delinquent police officials, sent a salutary message down the line that indiscipline will be dealt with sternly.
Acts of indiscipline by policemen tend to tarnish the image of the police force, which has an adverse impact on the functioning of police in maintaining law and order. If hundreds of policemen remain under suspension at any given time, the availability of policemen for various duties is bound to have a malefic effect on the duties of policing. The little confidence that the public still repose in the police would also get a drubbing.
Herein comes the role of senior police officials, to arrest the increase in cases of indiscipline. As the saying goes, the soldiers are always good, but it is the leadership that draws the best out of them.
The Rajasthan policemen were on protest for over a fortnight last year. They refused to have meals in the mess and wore black bands on their sleeves. A rumour floated on WhatsApp that their pay would be reduced by Rs 4,500 triggered the protest, but no effort seems to have been made to address the problem or scuttle the rumour, if indeed it was a rumour. If not a rumour, it should have been taken up by the highest police authority to set matters right and assure the policemen on that count.
Clearly, the redressal mechanism in the state is not working as it should be. Otherwise, things would not have come to such a pass.
Gone are the days when the subordinate ranks in the police unquestioningly carried out the diktats of their superiors. We have a fairly educated lot, most of them graduates who join the constabulary who, though disciplined, will question when wronged.
There is generally a tendency to overlook minor offences of subordinates, which bolsters them to indulge in serious offences later. Minor offences taken notice of and met with minor punishments would deter others from indulging in acts of indiscipline.
Last year, 1,782 Delhi police personnel, including 188 inspectors, were censured for various misdemeanours. Such minor punishments can delay the promotions of the erring cops. Suspension and departmental inquiries to inflict major punishments should be resorted to in rare cases, largely to get rid of bad apples and to serve as a deterrent to others.
Custodial deaths in police stations have been on the increase. Personnel involved in custodial deaths have to be dealt with in the harshest manner possible. As many as 591 deaths in police custody were recorded between 2010 and 2015. The death toll in 2016 was 92.
What emboldens policemen to torture suspects is the fact that hardly any convictions take place in cases of custodial deaths. They go scot-free on the plea that the suspects committed suicide or were already sick when arrested. Only four policemen of Mumbai were convicted between 2010 and 2016 for custodial deaths in 2013. In 2015, only 33 cases were registered against policemen for 97 deaths in police custody. Since policemen of the state who probe into the custodial deaths are more likely to exculpate their erring colleagues for obvious reasons, all custodial deaths should be enquired into by the State Police Complaint Authority, headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court or a high court or by the CBI.
In 2006, the Supreme Court had ordered that a Police Complaint Authority be set up in every state. Only a few states, such as Kerala, Punjab, Jharkhand, Haryana, Maharashtra and Puducherry, set up these complaints authorities. Most states have not implemented the order.
No sooner than a suspect dies in custody, the policemen responsible should be placed under suspension so that they are denied access to any evidence that they could tamper with or influence the witnesses.
In no circumstance should mutiny by a posse of policemen be ignored or overlooked. It is a serious offence, which calls for the extreme penal action of dismissal or even incarceration. At the same time, every effort must be made to first fine-tune the redressal mechanism so that policemen do not resort to acts of indiscipline.
(The writer is retired IGP, CRPF)