What Prakash Singh feels about the struggle for police reforms

An excerpt from the distinguished police officer’s memoirs, ‘Unforgettable Chapters’

GN Bureau | May 9, 2024


#Prakash Singh   #crime   #Law   #Police   #Supreme Court  


Unforgettable Chapters: Memoirs of a Top Cop
By Prakash Singh
Rupa Publications, Rs 395, 208pages

Prakash Singh has been a distinguished officer of the Indian Police Service. Ajit Doval, national security advisor, considers him “one of the most brilliant professionals that Indian police has ever produced”, while former prime minister Dr. Manmohan Singh calls him an “icon”, who has “done so much for the country’s security”.
 
Prakash Singh has had the unique distinction of having commanded the world’s largest single police force—that of Uttar Pradesh— and also the world’s largest border guarding outfit—the Border Security Force. He has also led the Assam Police in India’s turbulent Northeast. Singh has contributed to combating the insurgency in Nagaland, containing the threat of the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), neutralizing the terrorist movement in Punjab and the Terai area of Uttar Pradesh, and tackling the separatist elements in Jammu and Kashmir.

He was honoured with the Padma Shri in 1991. He was also member, National Security Advisory Board (2013–14), and is considered the architect of police reforms in the country.

In his new work, ‘Unforgettable Chapters: Memoirs of a Top Cop’, readers are invited into the gripping world of law enforcement through the eyes of a seasoned officer who navigated the murky waters of crime and insurgency.

From the troubled terrains of Nagaland to the tumultuous landscapes of Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, and Jammu and Kashmir, this book unveils the relentless battles against insurgency and the delicate dance between law enforcement and political interests. With unwavering determination, Prakash Singh recounts trans-border operations and the constant struggle to secure the nation’s borders against threats, both foreign and domestic.

Beyond the uniform, the narrative also shifts to the personal realm, where the officer grapples with the complexities of citizenry. Facing the daunting Naxal challenge, the book delves into the relentless pursuit of internal security amidst systemic challenges.

With candid insight, the author details the campaign for police reforms and their broader impact on society. Unforgettable Chapters is more than a memoirs; it’s a testament to the courage and resilience of those who dedicate their lives to the service of the nation.

Prakash Singh is especially known for his zeal for police reforms. In 1996, when he was already in retirement and free of constraints of service rules, he filed a PIL before the Supreme Court seeking reforms in the Acts relating to the police force. The apex court, in 2006, accepted his arguments and issued directions to the centre and the states. Not much, however, has happened since.

Prakash Singh devoted a full-length book to that topic two years ago (‘The Struggle for Police Reforms in India’, Rupa Publications). In the latest work, releasing this month, he revisits the topic and brings the reader up to date. Here is an excerpt from the relevant chapter:

STRUGGLE FOR IMPLEMENTATION

The struggle for implementation of the aforesaid directions of the Supreme Court is proving to be agonizing. There is fierce resistance from the political class as well as the bureaucracy. They feel that they would lose their hold over the police, which has been at their beck and call all these years.

The Centre as well as the states have been dragging their feet in the matter. The Supreme Court judgment contained a caveat that its directions shall be ‘operative till such time a new Model Police Act is prepared by the central government and/or the state governments pass the required legislations’. The clever bureaucrats jumped upon this proviso and, in eighteen states so far, the state governments have passed Police Acts ostensibly in compliance of the judicial directions but, in reality, to circumvent the implementation of Supreme Court’s judgment. The remaining states have passed executive orders.

An analysis of the Acts and the executive orders shows that they violate the letter and spirit of Supreme Court’s directions. The states would like the status quo to continue and whatever action they have taken so far amounts to giving legislative cover to the existing arrangement or performing a farcical compliance of the Supreme Court’s orders.

The Supreme Court constituted the Justice Thomas Committee in 2008 to examine the affidavits filed by the different states and the union territories and also the new legislations enacted by different states to see whether these were in keeping with the letter and spirit of Court’s directions. The Committee submitted its report in 2010, expressing its ‘dismay over the total indifference to the issue of reforms in the functioning of police being exhibited by the states’, and concluded as follows:

“Insofar as the implementation of the six specific Directives of the Supreme Court is concerned, the Committee has no hesitation in concluding that practically no State has fully complied with those Directives so far, in letter and spirit, despite the lapse of almost four years since the date of the original judgment. In the States, where new police legislations have not been enacted, the directions are purported to have been complied with by issuing executive orders but the contents of such executive orders clearly reflect dilution, in varying degrees, of the spirit, if not the letter, of the Court directives.” [See: Singh, Prakash, ‘The Struggle for Police Reforms in India’, Appendix E, Rupa Publications, 2022, p. 409.]

About states which had enacted legislation, the Committee observed that the Acts passed by them ‘reflect[ed] the same story’. I strongly felt that the states which had passed their own Police Acts should not be allowed to get away with legislations contrary to the Supreme Court’s directions. I, therefore, contacted Harish Salve, one of the leading advocates of the country, who had somehow developed a liking for me, and requested him to challenge the constitutionality of the Acts passed by the state governments. Salve agreed. I gave him a draft which was improved upon in his office, and the same was submitted by Salve directly to the Court in May 2013. It was argued that the directions of 22 September 2006 flowed directly from the Constitutional guarantees under Part III and Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution, and the underlying principle of Rule of Law; and that they therefore constituted the bare minimum action to be taken by the executive to ensure that the functioning of the police was consistent with the Constitution. Any executive or legislative action that deviated from the Constitutional mandate in the said decision was ex hypothesi null, void, illegal and ultra vires the Constitution of India. The petition is still pending.

Justice J.S. Verma Committee (2012–2013), which was actually appointed to suggest amendments in the criminal law to provide for quicker trial and enhanced punishment to criminals committing sexual assaults against women, devoted one full chapter running into 28 pages to police reforms. It expressed its views on the subject in the following words: ‘We believe that if the Supreme Court’s directions in **Prakash Singh** are implemented, there will be a crucial modernisation of the police to be service oriented for the citizenry in a manner which is efficient, scientific, and consistent with human dignity.’ [See: Verma, J.S., Leila Seth, and Gopal Subramaniyam, ‘Report of the Committee on Amendments to Criminal Law’ (Justice J.S. Verma Committee Report), 23 January 2013, p. 321, http://tinyurl.com/yv9uux3s. Accessed on 4 January 2024.]

[…]

The hesitation of the Supreme Court in taking an adverse view of non-compliance of the judicial directions has been rather disappointing. Once the highest court of the land had issued a set of directions after careful deliberation over a period of ten years on a matter which had been pending for more than seven decades, it was expected that the Court would wield the whip in enforcing compliance of its directions. I get an uncomfortable feeling that most of the hon’ble judges are either reluctant to take up what they find a complicated matter because the state governments are opposed to it and the central government is not keen either, or that they are reluctant to take a strong stand in the matter. Justice S.H. Kapadia showed great enthusiasm in the initial stages but ran out of steam while half way through. Justice G.S. Singhvi tried to accelerate the process of implementation, but he was thwarted by the battery of advocates who pulled red herrings to detract his attention. The struggle for police reforms meanwhile continues.

[The excerpt reproduced with the permission of the publishers.]

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