Union Home Minister P Chidambaram’s statement on Tuesday at a meeting of the parliamentary consultative committee of the home ministry in New Delhi, regarding trifurcation of police in the states by creating separate cadres for investigation and prosecution, besides one for the law and order handling is noteworthy in respect of conflict ridden states of the Northeast and Jammu & Kashmir. In these states, the police force have been concentrating most of its energy towards handling law and order and counter-insurgency, while neglecting the area of crime investigation and criminal prosecution. As a direct result of which, pending cases have been piling up every month every year reaching unmanageable heights. One stark example can be the huge number of undertrial prisoners in the state jails and the long periods they had to wait for their charge-sheets to come up in the courts. Indirectly, the abnormal situation has created room for more corruption in the police force. On the other hand, public confidence in the police force has been diminishing day by day. Consequently, a vigilante culture has developed to fill in the vacuum created by the police inaction.
In the last few years in Manipur, we have been witnessing several instances of angry mobs ransacking the houses of alleged perpetrators of crimes, while the police role have been reduced to that of rescuing the alleged perpetrators from the mob. In their rescue attempt, they also have not been able to impress upon the general public that they are trying to drive home the dictum of ‘innocence until proven guilty.’ In fact, they are viewed as the protectors of criminals and not as upholders of law. This necessarily indicates that, the police force cannot extricate itself from the imagined maze of law and order and insurgency problem.
The police in Manipur have long forgotten it has an essential role to play in crime investigation and prosecution also. The strength of the state police force was substantially increased during the two consecutive terms of the O Ibobi led SPF government. The need for increasing the number of police personnel or of opening more MR/IRB battalions was emphasized by Chief Minister O Ibobi Singh and top security officials of the state, every time they meet the Union Home Minister P Chidambaram or top officials of the Home Ministry. Most of the time, the Home Ministry agreed and the strength of state police force including the Manipur Rifles and IRB, increased in leaps and bounds. In fact, the O Ibobi Singh government had a gala time in the recruitment spree and massive gains were made in their respective support bases. Sadly, the increase was more in the law and order front like Police Commando or IRB battalions. The crucial branches of crime investigation and prosecution were simply ignored. The recent bifurcation in the District Police set-up by creating two posts of Additional SPs each in the districts, one for handling operations and another for supervising crime investigation, could not do justice towards strengthening investigation. These days, nobody wants a posting in the police stations. The lure of the Commando Branch and its advantages in promotion and other sops is such that, anyone who has enough political backing or lakhs to spare will strive for a posting in the Commando Branch.
If the Home ministry is really serious about police reforms or revamping the investigation and prosecution branches, it should also take into account the above factors. Although law and order is a state subject, the home ministry must impress upon the states the need for strengthening the two branches while discouraging opening of more battalions for counter-insurgency operations. Enough is enough. A line has to be drawn somewhere.