Shanti(Peace), Seva(service), aur Nyaya(justice) is the motto that drives the Delhi police. Being the son of an ASI (Assistant sub-inspector) and growing up in a police colony, I came across many instances when my father was not present for the festivities of Holi and Diwali and for days important to me such as a birthday or a state level cricket match. Seeing him toil relentlessly for several hours and sometimes not returning home for several days, I was irked when I heard derogatory remarks such as ‘corrupt’ and ‘ineffective’ for the police force of our country. I later realized that these aspersions are just a result of the mistrust between citizens and the police force that has been growing at an alarming rate. In light of the continuous scrutiny that they face consistently, my colleague and I decided to interview a senior level police officer in Delhi and thereby examine the standard operating procedure and the problems associated with it.
Scope of Improvement
The inspector who had been assigned to speak to us had arrived after more than two hours of our scheduled appointment and took us into his office. As he walked into an adjacent room to place his brief case, we noticed a bed and a spare set of uniform. Upon learning the reasons as to why we had disturbed his Sunday, he smiled and said that he was grateful to help. After traversing through the sections regarding arrest in the CRPC (Code of Criminal Procedure), he highlighted that 41A (Notice of appearance before police) is a particularly cumbersome section. He stated that the code is interpreted in such a fashion that only written notices are accepted by the courts. However, suspects utilize this to their advantage by refusing to accept the written notice once they have been served with it. Further, when brought before the magistrate, they proceed to claim that they never received the notice to begin with.
This compels the police force to follow a lengthy and time-consuming procedure to adhere to the code. This can be avoided he said, if the code accepted the notices through phone calls and WhatsApp. The courts had taken note of this previously and on May 18th 2017, Justice Rajiv Sahai End law of the Delhi High Court allowed the use of Whatsapp, email and text to enable the plaintiff to serve summons on the defendant. This precedent, he urged should be used within the provisions of the code to enable the police force to effectively do their duty.
We further asked whether self inflicted injuries are common in police custody and he responded in the affirmative. However, there are sections that advise the immediate medical examination of suspects under the expert medical officers and practitioners. This helps the police to distinguish the self- inflicted wounds from wounds that may have been obtained while in police custody because of which policemen rarely face any backlash. He further added that in rural areas where the code may not be strictly followed due to the unavailability of a medical practitioner, there should be CCTV cameras placed within the station.
When questioned on the kinds of logistical constraints they faced in the city, the reply was instant. He confessed that they were understaffed, overworked, and that their transport capabilities were severely restricted, and this significantly impacted their efficiency. He further added that only registers were provided by the government, whereas they had to pay for other essential office expenses such as stationary and printouts from their own pockets.
Exploitation of Provisions
There have been a significant number of cases that have been reported by the media of police personnel being accused of not filing the FIR on charges as critical as rape. One of the most prolific examples of this is the 2011 Assam rape case. However, when questioned on the special provisions that are granted to women within the code, we were shocked to learn that there is rampant misuse of these sections. After Arnesh Kumar versus State (only 15 per cent of the 1, 97,762 individuals charge sheeted for 498-A in 2012 resulted in convictions), it was indicated that 498-A (husband, or relative of husband of a woman, subjecting her to cruelty) of the Indian Penal Code was being abused for harassing the in-laws. Women are resorting to provisions such as 376(Rape) to harass people. Moreover, some women threaten to invoke 166A(c) (Public servant disobeying direction under law) of the Indian Penal Code against the police on the advice of their attorneys for the purposes of harassment. This is a blatant misuse of the criminal justice system which inevitably leads to the overburdening of the police force with false cases.
After concluding our talks, the inspector insisted that we meet with his assistant commissioner to get a deeper insight into the reasons for the multitudes of pending cases. The Assistant Commissioner further stated, “The communication between the police and the magistrates should improve. Once a week, half a day should be dedicated to summary cases and the SHO should be made responsible for this.” He further proclaimed that in an ideal situation if a case is registered on Monday, documents should be presented to a magistrate by Friday, and after hearing the case on Saturday, the case should be dismissed. This would reduce the number of pending cases for both the police and the judiciary. We thanked him for his insight and before leaving we expressed our gratitude for his valuable time and were pleasantly surprised when we were greeted with an apology. As we departed the police station, we found ourselves humbled by the commitment and dedication of the police force for their duty to safeguard our community and the ACP’s departing words to us, ‘Books and laws can only be debated in a civilized society’ lingered in our minds forever.