There is reluctance in making police independent of the political executive and the “real struggle” is like the independence struggle, said Justice Gautam Patel of the Bombay High Court. He added that having control over the police force gives immense power and that political executives will not “relinquish it cede” the same easily.
“There is so much reluctance. We must plan on that reluctance. After all, there are few things as powerful and as terrible in their power as control over an entire police force. That power is not likely to be relinquished or ceded easily. And that is the real struggle, a sort of independence struggle of its own: striving for an impartial and independent police form, able to say, rank and file 'no' to a political demand, and always accountable and answerable only to the rule of law,” Justice Patel said.
Justice Patel was speaking at the Indian Police Foundation Annual Day & Police Reforms Day Event on Friday. Former Director General of Police, Punjab and former Mumbai police commissioner Julio Rebeiro was honoured at the function.
While addressing the gathering, Justice Patel said that the 2006 judgment of the Supreme Court in the Prakash Singh case which dealt with issues concerning police reforms, was a “missed opportunity” as it took a very narrow approach to the issue. In 2006, after taking recommendations from the National Police Commission, the Supreme Court issued certain directives on the role of police as a law enforcement agency and a protector of citizen rights.
Justice Patel opined that the judgment was a missed opportunity since its focus was narrow and there is a need for much wider dialogue and conversation.
“The focus was perhaps too narrow, only on police reforms. There is a much wider dialogue, a conversation, that we must have. Any talk of police reforms confined to the people in the formal police services is stripped of the much wider and more essential social context. How do we reform the police without reforming ourselves? I do believe that police reforms cannot be seen in isolation or in a separate box,” he said.
The judge emphasised that the public perception of the process of administration of law was “too slow and unpredictable” and the same did not match the populist image of police, as shown in movies, as “bullies, corrupt and unaccountable”. And the same can be said about anyone in public life including judges, politicians and journalists, he said.
Swift, righteous justice
“We believe as members of a civil society that justice should be swift, righteous and without mercy. If courts and judges cannot be trusted or relied on to do this, then surely there is nothing wrong if the men and women in khaki step into the breach to do that which we believe must be done. Therefore when a rape accused is killed in an ‘encounter’ while allegedly trying to flee from an entire squadron of police, we think this is perfectly all right and that justice has been served,” Justice Patel said.
Reference to Singham
Citing the movie Singham, the judge said that the cinematic image of a “hero cop” delivering quick justice without bothering about the due process of law, as shown in films, sends out a very harmful message.
“In movies, police rail against judges who are shown as docile, timid, thickly-spectacled and often very badly dressed. They accuse courts of letting the guilty go. The hero cop delivers justice single-handedly,” he said.
“Singham movie has especially shown in its climax scene where the entire police force descends on the politician played by Prakash Raj...and shows that justice has now been served. But I ask, has it?” Justice Patel said, adding that we should think “how dangerous that message is”. “Why this impatience? It has to go through a process where we decide innocence or guilt. These processes are slow...they have to be...because of the cardinal principle that the liberty of an individual is not to be confiscated,” he added.
“If liberty of the individual is paramount, if adjudication has to be fair and not snap, then this is the only possible process to achieve adherence and fidelity to governance by the rule of law. If we abandon this process and if we start taking shortcuts, we subvert the rule of law,” judge concluded.
Singham, released in 2011, is an action film directed by Rohit Shetty. It is a remake of the 2010 Tamil film of the same title, starring Ajay Devgn in the lead role as a police officer.