The Narendra Modi government has decided to revamp the British-era Indian Penal Code. The existing laws, said a senior government official quoted in The Hindu, are based on the colonial “master and servant” relationship. Speaking at a function in New Delhi last month, Home Minister Amit Shah had said that it was the duty of the police to “protect the people”.
ThePrint asks: Can changes in British-era IPC alter police attitude towards people or more reforms needed?
Revamping IPC, CrPC alone won’t bring attitudinal changes among police personnel
Former DG, Border Security Force
I have no problem with an overhaul of the IPC and the CrPC because there may be some sections, which have now become outdated. However, if we assume that a change in the IPC will lead to a change in police officers’ attitude towards people, then we are highly mistaken. For that, a whole lot of other internal and external reforms are required.
The internal reforms that we need are: a change in the attitude of the police towards complainants, quick registration of FIRs, and swift response against crimes.
But revamping the police training academies should be the top priority. Officers who are not wanted in the police force are transferred to these police training institutes. Such officers fail to inspire the young trainees.
Coming to external reforms, the most important directive that needs to be implemented, and which has been mandated by the Supreme Court too, is to ensure there is no outside pressure on the police.
There should not be any browbeating, lobbying or any political interference of any kind. There needs to be an autonomy in matters of investigation.
A police officer should be able to feel that if he or she is enforcing the rule of law, then nobody can punish them for taking the right step. Currently, there is a fear of transfer and punishment among police officers. That’s why this is the most crucial area that needs to be urgently looked at.
IPC was ahead of its time in 1860 but hasn’t kept pace since. Modi govt right to bring changes
Constitutional law expert
Criminal law’s promise to be an instrument of safety is matched only by its power to destroy. We need to know why the Narendra Modi government wants to review supposedly the best criminal code in the world. Are we going to make it progressive or bring reforms that will make it more regressive? On many issues of criminal law like death penalty, India is already in the company of Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, China, Sudan, etc.
Criminal law reform must not be guided by retribution and deterrence but by reformation and rehabilitation.
In 1860, the IPC was ahead of its time but it has not kept pace since. Home Minister Amit Shah is right in seeking its review. There is no denying the fact that the philosophical stance and fundamental principles of the Macaulay code was the product of a particular time, culture and imperialist policy of the British Empire.
Some of the concepts underlying the 1860 code are either problematic or have become obsolete, and therefore we must identify crimes and areas that need reforms. We need substantial changes to make the IPC fit into the libertarian and citizen-friendly model of governance.
Macaulay had himself favoured regular revision of the IPC whenever gaps or ambiguities were found. Even though the IPC has been amended more than 75 times, Parliament is yet to undertake any comprehensive revision based on the recommendations made in the 42nd Law Commission Report in 1971. As a result, courts have largely had to undertake this task on an ad hoc basis, striking down provisions that criminalised homosexuality and adultery.
Changes in IPC required but they should not be made to suit the needs of ruling party or any politician
Retired I.P.S officer
It is not incorrect to say that the IPC was drafted with the mindset of a ruler to control ‘subordinates’, and that it has very few democratic elements. There are many offences covered under the IPC, like sedition, that are not relevant today. The sedition law is often misused today and needs to be scrapped. Moreover, there are other crimes that are not recognised under the IPC, such as economic crimes, hate crimes like mob lynching and societal crimes committed in the name of caste and religion.
The British were fairly caste-blind and were neutral about caste and religion. But it isn’t the case with today’s politicians. Political leaders try to get votes based on these lines. In this day and age, caste atrocities are tolerated that in turn leads to politicians being indirectly
promoted to the ranks of power.
Changes in the IPC are desirable and required, but they should not be made to suit the needs of the ruling party or any politician. Reforms must be introduced to uphold democratic values, and human rights must be given top priority.
Both the IPC and the CrPC must be in tune with the Constitution. In order to do that, provisions like preventive detention under the CrPC that are in blatant violation of Article 21 (right to life and personal liberty) must be scrapped.
Moreover, government officials should be given no immunity from arrest.
The decision to introduce changes in the IPC and the CrPC is a good step forward, but every proposed change must be subject to public opinion before being implemented.
Root causes of problems with police force and justice delivery system are not in IPC
Former police commissioner of Delhi
The premise that by rewriting laws, whether it is overhauling the IPC or the CrPC, the criminal justice system will be reformed, is wholly fallacious. If the police today do not measure up to people’s expectations, the reasons thereof have nothing to do with the statute book.
The Indian Penal Code is a well thought out and well-written code. By and large, it has served its purpose well. And whenever any changes were required, it has been amended to meet the challenge of the times. The changes brought about for making stringent anti-dowry laws or criminalising offences against women in the wake of the 2012 Delhi gang-rape, are cases in point. The IPC is extremely well-drafted and there is absolutely no need to reform it. Amendments are there to incorporate any changes required.
If there’s a need to improve the police or the criminal justice system as a whole, then the remedies lie elsewhere. The state should focus on changing or tackling them instead of changing laws. For the police to be more efficient, the quality of training, human resource management, quality of investigations need to improve. They can happen only if deep structural changes are made. There are many recommendations by police commissions and other bodies that are gathering dust in government files. For instance, making the police force more officer-oriented could be considered to make it more responsive.
To increase the efficiency of the police, officers must be paid more, and their living conditions and the services provided to them should also improve. Officers at high posts should have better leadership qualities and professional skills.
We need to think of other ways to improve the system rather than introducing drastic changes to the IPC, or, for that matter other laws on the statute book.
Police attitude towards public will change if British-era principles are considered while amending IPC
Former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat & author of ‘National Security and Intelligence Management’
Overhauling the IPC can alter the attitude of the police towards people. Currently, neither the IPC (1860) nor the Police Act (1861), duly amended after the Independence, codify the legal necessity of ensuring that the police behave better with the public. This is partly because both these legislations were enacted by the British to empower the police as their coercive arm.
Former British Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel, as British Home Secretary in 1829, wanted a clean break in the British police system that was corrupt, inefficient and had a high-handed approach to dealing with the public. He created the London “Bobby” force with the basic principle of “Policing by Consent”, which meant that the authority of the British police constable is derived from three sources: the crown, the law and the consent and cooperation of the public. This was the bedrock of the 1829 Metropolitan Police Act.
In amplification of this Peel’s principle, two commissioners of Police of the Metropolis subsequently laid down nine principles of police behaviour towards the public, which one can find on the website of the British Home Office.
The attitude of police officers towards the public in India will change drastically if the principles mentioned above are taken into consideration while making amendments in the IPC and the CrPc.
By Revathi Krishnan, journalist at ThePrint