Police Reforms Day: Lessons from Meghalaya’s State Security Commission

 

 

By Aditi Datta

On September 22, 2006, the Supreme Court of India issued a set of seven directives to the union and state governments laying down practical mechanisms to implement structural reforms of the police. One of the directives requires governments, in each state and union territory to constitute a State Security Commission (SSC) as an independent body with a mandate to provide policy direction to the police and evaluate its performance against objective criteria.

SSCs are designed to prevent illegitimate political control over policing and ensure the elected government’s supervision does not intrude into everyday management of the police.

However, 14 years after the court judgment, states have failed to establish independent and effective SSCs. Technically, 26 states have indeed constituted SSCs either through police acts or through government notifications. Yet, not a single SSC complies with the court’s directives.

The balanced composition suggested by the court with representation of the government, the opposition, police, judiciary and civil society stands diluted in several ways: six states do not include the leader of the opposition whereas 17 states do not follow an independent selection process to pick non-official members. This results in the SSC being dominated by members of the political executive. Among the worst examples of blatant flouting of the court’s directives is Bihar: the State Police Board is headed by the Chief Secretary, and includes only two other members — the Director General of :Police (DGP) and the Home Secretary.

Aside from gaps in their composition, the on-the-ground record of SSCs is equally discouraging. Since 2013, only four SSCs have held meetings: Meghalaya (five), Tripura (three), Andaman and Nicobar Islands (one) and Daman & Diu and Dadra and Nagar Haveli (one joint meeting).

Thus, the Meghalaya SSC tops the list of functioning SSCs, of which in terms of activity, there appear to be just four. Since its formation under the Meghalaya Police Act, 2010, the SSC has met ten times between 2011 and 2017.While its composition, too, is dominated by the political executive without adequate independent members, a review of its meetings, made possible through right to information, offers valuable insights into the measureable impact that an independent oversight body can have on ensuring better policing.

Thus, over the years, the Meghalaya SSC has discussed a range of substantive policy issues. These have ranged from police housing, police budget, cyber crime, Crime and Criminal Tracking Network System, police stations/units/outposts, police retirement, social media management, issues of insurgency and community policing. This itself has set into motion a process of collective planning and review of policing policies and practices. In these meetings, which have almost always included the leader of the opposition, independent members as well as the police chief, the members highlighted main gaps and agreed on follow-up actions.

For example the SSC met four times to discuss the criteria for appointment of DGP and also shortlisted candidates. It met five times to discuss about police recruitment and directed the home (police) department/DGP to take steps to fill up the vacancies based on current and anticipated vacancy. On crimes against women, it emphasized the need for ensuring adequate women police personnel in each police station instead of having an All Woman Police station.

It is encouraging to note that two years following the SSC meeting on women in police where the issue of quota was also reviewed, the state passed the Meghalaya Police (Amendment) Act 2018 introducing 10 percent reservation for women at the Constable and Sub-Inspector ranks. A shared agreement leading to a policy change is more likely to meet success in implementation.

Another issued discussed by the SSC was the need to develop a strategic plan, as required under Section 34 of the Meghalaya Police Act, 2010. The Commission asked the Rajiv Gandhi Indian Institute of Management, Shillong, to develop the plan. Although it is not clear whether the plan has since been approved and adopted, the state stands out as among the few in the country to recognize the need for creating a strategic plan.

While the progress of the SSC is a mixed bag, a major limitation is that its recommendations have not been made binding on the state government. Without this, the SSC tends to be reduced to an advisory role instead of a policy-making one as the court had intended.

Lack of adequate independent members is another key gap. It has meant that the SSC lacks expertise and interests beyond those of the political executive. This has a bearing on the mandate itself because the SSC does not have varied skill sets for developing performance indicators, which has remained so far neglectedAbsence of business rules governing the meetings has also meant that certain issues were dropped, not followed up on or evolved into something quite different to what was envisaged: thus, for example, the SSC had met to develop Standard Operating Procedures. The scope of this effort was continuously reduced from a broad array of policing issues requiring regulation to just that of motivation of police personnel.

Notwithstanding these flaws, Meghalaya’s SSC appears to be the best institutionalized such oversight body in India from which other states can learn. However, it needs to address the shortcomings that have been pointed out if it wants to induce far-reaching systemic changes.

(Aditi Dutta is Senior Programme Officer, Police Reforms Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) (www.humanrightsinitiative.org)

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