Manipur’s new Home Minister Gaikhangam has spelled out his agenda. He has set his sights on the transformation of the state police force, whose image has taken a serious beating in recent years with the series of ‘fake encounter’ episodes. That he starts his stint as a Home Minister for a people-friendly police is in itself commendable. The task in hand is no doubt a challenge. Yet the attitude should be appreciated. A few years back, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had emphatically stressed upon reorientation of the police into a more people-friendly organisation. He had urged chief ministers of the states to carry out police reforms and focus on community policing in order to bridge the gap of mistrust between the public and the police. Recognition of the need for police reforms has gained momentum particularly since the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks and even found a mention for the first time in the Congress-led United Progress Alliance election manifesto in 2009. Since then, every conference on internal security has touched upon the issue in considerable detail. Unfortunately, this recognition has failed to find resonance with both the states and the Union government. Police reforms have been ignored, neglected, diluted, or at the other extreme, reduced to a particular vision of reform, one that is guided more by concerns of counter-terrorism and counterinsurgency rather than enabling better access to justice. The most glaring neglect of police reforms is evident in the dismal compliance of both the Union and the states with the Supreme Court directives issued in 2006 in reference to the Prakash Singh v Union of India case. The directives seek to address the issue of politicisation of the police by regulating transfers, postings, and promotions; enhance its accountability through independent bodies; and strengthen its professionalism through regular performance appraisals.
When we talk about police image in Manipur, we have to keep in mind the different sets of police personnel operating in the state. First, there are the regular police in the police stations handling crime investigation who are both corrupt and inefficient. The other one is the police commandos whose primary duty is law and order including counter insurgency operations EN Rammohan, a retired IPS who served as an Advisor to the Governor of Manipur once wrote, ‘In Manipur, civil policemen and officers were selected and trained as commandos. Although they did a very good job initially, they soon deteriorated into a state terrorist force due to faulty leadership. They started extorting money from the business community, picking a leaf out of the insurgent’s book. What were the consequences for the hapless public?’More recently, a semi-police group in the form of Village Defence Force (VDF) has been added. Even though the VDFs are not really part of the police organization, they are being used in law and order detail. In the eyes of the general public, they are no different. More importantly, the VDFs also wear the khaki and many of them wear police insignia. Their involvement in numerous cases of extortion and crimes has further sullied the police image.
In such a backdrop, if we are really serious about police reforms, we have to give equal emphasis to police recruitment also. The dynamics that are involved in such recruitment processes between the recruiting agencies and the aspiring candidates remain an open secret where the procedures are all conducted with a semblance of transparency but always reeking of the pungent odour of greased palms.
We may cite here a ruling of the Gauhati High Court in September 2008 regarding police recruitment. An individual who took the examination for recruitment as sub-inspector wanted to scrutinise his answer script later as he smelt corruption in the procedure. The Gauhati High Court upheld his right to see the script. The Manipur Police Department challenged the order saying that it would entitle all applicants to this right. The Gauhati High Court disagreed, saying that the right to know was a part of the right to freedom of speech and expression. The applicant did not have to give a reason for his request under the provisions of the Right to Information Act. The court also observed that this would ensure greater transparency and fairness. Taking the above observations into account, a step-by-step accounting system of the recruitment process should be put in place for ensuring greater transparency and public trust.