Wednesday, March 29, 2023
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Not encounters, Yogi Adityanath needs to fix the rotten core of the UP police system

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By adhering to rules written in 1861, Uttar Pradesh is trying to handle cities through old school rural policing deployments. It just won’t work.

The Yogi Adityanath government has come down hard on crime and criminals, or so goes the narrative. Over 1,100 encounters, accounting for 39 killed and nearly 3,000 people arrested, is quite a record to flaunt, but it also raises questions and doubts. And there’s the rub.

This issue is often about credibility. So many encounters, people killed, police on a warpath… and from there, the story could spin off in any direction, depending on who the narrator is. After all, Yogi Adityanath is not the first UP Chief Minister to order a crackdown on organised crime.

At the same time, deteriorating law and order is a genuine problem in UP. In fact, it’s the biggest deterrent to investment in the state. And changing this fact was a big part of BJP’s poll plank. In that sense, the UP government may feel fully justified in pressing the accelerator to go after criminal gangs.

A crackdown with such a high encounter rate will always look dubious and scary, unless it’s followed up by some major police reforms. It’s only then that a modicum of trust can be built into the ‘cleansing’ process.

Having started this spree, the onus is now on Yogi Adityanath to follow up on structural reforms that will fundamentally change the way policing is done in UP.

Archaic rules

The state police, until now, is among the few in the country which still follows rules made in 1861, based on the police commission report formed to inquire into the 1857 revolt.

The outcome was a separation of police powers from the military. The magistrate in each district was given superintendence over the deployment of police. The overall general administration of the police force was with director general of police of the province.

This served well for the British, and to quite an extent, remained effective in rural areas. In other words, it may have been a workable rural policing model as long as it was about dealing with sparse population spread across distant habitats with the primary intent of aiding the collection of revenue.

But times have changed. First, the priority now is to maintain law and order. Second, the population density has increased in UP, and vast rural spaces have decreased. Third, urban centres have increased manifold in the state.

Let’s not forget that according to the Supreme Court order on police reforms, a place with over 10 lakh population qualifies as an urban centre.

Quite clearly, the state needs to be remapped to the present day for policing purposes. Not only are both the law and the rules governing the police force outdated in UP, but so are its basic precepts. Simply put, you have old school rural policing deployments to handle a city. It won’t work.

Eventually, when the political pressure does come, special squads are made, specific targets identified, and with that begins the firefight. Body counts and prison headcounts can be no measure for assessing the effectiveness of the law and order machinery in a state.

What can fix this?

To begin with, Uttar Pradesh must adopt the commissionerate system for urban areas with over 10 lakh population, like most states adjoining the National Capital Territory of Delhi have done. A city needs a police commissioner, adequately empowered and resourced to ensure proper law and order.

It’s only under a modern, newly-organised police force that law and order can be managed without having to resort to a record number of encounters. The UP CM must realise that such numbers also create fear among ordinary people, and don’t necessarily make them feel secure. Only an efficient policing system can provide that security.

As it turns out, successive governments have only paid lip service to the notion of police reforms in UP. As per the SC order on police reforms, a State Security Commission was constituted in December 2010, reconstituted in February 2011, and then again reconstituted in July 2013.

By all accounts, it hasn’t even met once to discuss restructuring the police force in a way to address present-day requirements.

This is where Yogi Adityanath has to do the political heavy lifting, to turn the existing system of privilege and patronage on its head, and put in place a more modern police system – one that assures security, builds trust, and upholds the law.

If that’s not done, then headcounts will begin to look like revenge killings, and arrests as political vendetta.

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  1. For India, it is rightly said that behind every big crime there is a policeman. Behavior of these policemen is worse than criminals sometimes. Corruption and harassment are the hallmark of police. Some of them are criminals in uniform. See, how many of them have been arrested in the case of Ram Rahim for sedition. Police reforms are long overdue.

  2. Mr. Samanta should demonstrate how the Police Commissioner system will take away the need of the encounter – by the way, ‘encounter’ word is a misnomer. It should be described something like a hos pursuit leading to ‘armed clash’ between the criminal and police. Commissioner system simplifies the preventive arrests and thereby may help in the maintenance of public order. It also eases issuing license for arms. But I cannot see how it helps either reducing the need of tough policing required to deal with armed criminals.

  3. No reason why the DGP of UP should belong to a particular caste, congruent with the CM’s. That pattern is replicated upto the level of SHO. Some see Yogiji as the party’s great white hope, a future PM. From what one has observed over the last one year, the great political risk taken in appointing him as CM, custodian of one fourth of the party’s national mandate, may not pay off next year. Difficult to see any serious investor, $ 1 billion upwards, which is actually a very small number, choosing UP. Noida, being a real estate extension of Delhi, may be a small exception.

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