Monitoring  police  investigations


    The method of command and control of the police by the government in the present Indian police system gives scope for the political executive to influence the course of police action in specific situations to suit vested interests.  Such interference, even if it happens only in a few isolated sensitive cases, corrodes the police image as a whole. Police performance is then seen to be partisan in public estimate and makes them feel deprived of an important right in a democracy, namely the impartial rule of Law based on Truth and Justice.

    In this context, the National Police Commission (NPC) had made the important and crucial recommendation that the command and control over the police shall be exercised by the government through a small and compact statutory body called  State Security Commission (SSC), and not unilaterally and directly by the Home minister as at present.  The SSC shall be headed by the Chief Minister himself and will include an Opposition MLA, a retired High Court Judge, an academician and an administrator of eminence in public esteem as Members. This body will be politically balanced and neutral, and its deliberations will largely reduce if not eliminate the scope for misdirecting the police away from the path of Law, Truth and Justice.

    It is very unfortunate from the citizens’ point of view that this fundamental recommendation of the NPC has not yet been implemented by any State government since no political party in power is willing to give up its exclusive control over the police, as available now. Further, a few officers who have got politicised by the system and feel comfortable with their proximity to political centres of power are themselves not very enthusiastic about the change. This apart, it is indeed very disappointing that even some well-meaning and well-motivated senior administrators and police chiefs are hesitating to support this reform on a gross misunderstanding  that the proposed SSC will take the police totally away from the government domain which will neither be practicable nor desirable in administration.  This serious misunderstanding has to be removed. It should be clearly noted that even in the new set-up the government will continue to be very much in the picture in controlling and directing the police because the SSC will be headed by the Chief Minister only and not an outsider.  Just as the Cabinet of Ministers has the collective responsibility for running the government, the SSC will have the collective responsibility to supervise police performance. The actual position is further explained in the following paragraphs.

  The basic record of investigation of any case by the police is prescribed under Sec.172 Cr.P.C. and is called the Case Diary(CD) in normal parlance. It will contain all the information, evidence and other related circumstances ascertained during investigation. The CD is written by the investigating officer, who will usually be a Sub-Inspector, Inspector or Deputy Suptdt of police depending on the importance and nature of the case. The supervisory officers like SP/DIG/IG/DGP monitor the progress of any particular case by looking into the CD and checking if all the information and clues have been duly followed up and all the available evidence has been duly collected and objectively analysed.

   The truthfulness and completeness of investigation will be reflected in the record of CD. If the investigating officer yields to extraneous pressure or other influence he can make an incorrect or twisted record of some evidentiary matter connected with the case or leave some clue unpursued or unverified. This can be found out only by a professionally competent and careful scrutiny of the CD by the supervisory officers. It is this built-in supervision in the police hierarchy that ensures the integrity of investigation in specific cases.

   If a case happens to disclose some adverse material against a person who is politically or otherwise influential, then the case becomes sensitive and will attract the attention of the political executive, namely the Home Minister.

   Under Section 3 of the Police Act of 1861, the superintendence of the entire police in a State vests with the State government  which means the Home Minister in the present set up. He has the right to exercise this supervisory responsibility by asking the police chief to acquaint him with all the circumstances, information and evidence as and when recorded at the stage of investigation itself. This gives him scope to interfere, if he is so inclined, with the course of investigation in any particular case and direct it in a particular manner which may favour or disfavour a particular person, without regard to actual facts of evidence. Since the CD remains in the exclusive possession of the police at the investigation stage, any incorrectness or incompleteness in its record will not be known to outsiders.  It may be found out at a much later stage during trial but the damage to truth and justice would have already been done in the investigation itself.  Cases which are politically interfered with in the present system ultimately suffer in this manner. In a few individual cases this distortion at the stage of investigation may get exposed and corrected when the matter is taken to High Courts or Supreme Court on writ petitions alleging malafides in police action, but this remedy lies beyond easy access by ordinary people who get harassed by the existing system which has no built-in arrangement to prevent such aberrations.

   It is in this context that the SSC recommended by the NPC becomes very relevant to set right this deficiency. The SSC will exercise the ' superintending ' power over the police, hitherto exercised by the State government. In exercising this superintending power and responsibility the SSC can require the police chief to inform them of the  details of the progress of investigation of any specific case. The Commission can also take note of any information recorded in the CD and satisfy itself that the investigation is proceeding correctly and there is no malafide omission or commission. The fact that the Commission can make such a scrutiny at the investigation stage itself will act as an effective check over such omissions and commissions. The scope for extraneous interference with investigations will be very much reduced , if not eliminated , in this arrangement since the Commission will include a Member of the Opposition party besides retired Judges/Administrators who can immediately check any attempted malafide direction to the police from the ruling party. In fact the Commission will provide a protective cover for honest and upright officers to function efficiently with confidence and professional integrity. This will be a great improvement on the present system and will ensure political neutrality of the police.

   While the SSC as a body will have this statutory power and responsibility of supervision over the police, members of the SSC cannot exercise this power individually. In other words, the Opposition Member who is on the Commission cannot individually call the police chief for discussing the progress of investigation in any specific case and give him directions thereon. Members of the SSC do not have this power individually. The SSC as a body only can exercise this power by sitting as a body and deliberating over the case. In exceptional circumstances the Chief Minister or Home Minister can exercise this power as an emergent measure but should get their action ratified by the SSC. This is provided for in para 15.51 of the Second Report of NPC.

    Despite statistically impressive claims made by police chiefs and their political bosses, police image in common people’s view is different and leaves much to be desired at the ground level in present times. Police performance is tending to be dependent more amd more on coercive measures in law, and less and less on public cooperation and goodwill. Police efficiency suffers in this scenario.

     National security is now under increasing threat from subversive and divisive forces within the country.  There is urgent need to refurbish the sagging police image country wide and bring up their professional efficiency  to a high level to meet this threat.  In this context the constitution of a politically balanced and neutral body like a State Security Commission to control and direct the police in each State is immediately required to preserve National security and integrity.

     We rightly feel proud about our active and fiercely independent judiciary but that is not enough to ensure the cleanliness of our Criminal Justice System (CJS) as a whole. In the  ‘house-hold‘ of CJS, the judiciary function in the relatively cool and comfortable dining hall and deal with the matter produced by the police who sweat it out in the hot kitchen. There is no point in merely keeping  the dining hall spick and span  while the kitchen remains badly neglected and open to infection all the time. Comprehensive and meaningful police reform is a must for securing the ultimate effectiveness of our Criminal Justice System which is fundamental to the Rule of Law, the bedrock of our democracy.