Reform or Perish

1000 policemen (including PAC, RAF, STF and SOG), battle a lone dacoit for 52 hours. Four policemen are killed and two senior officers injured before he’s finally overpowered and killed. These are statistics that no self respecting force would be able to live down in a hurry.  Coming on the heels of the Pradhan panel report on the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, the Chitrakoot encounter is yet another pointer to the urgent requirement of police reforms. With India being plagued by international terrorism and Naxal violence, these warning signs pointing to repeated failure of our police and paramilitary forces in dealing with any substantial threat cannot be ignored any longer.

While police forces are increasingly being thrust into pitched encounters with armed miscreants, numerous infirmities in the entire police setup prevent effectiveness. Recruitment is beset with corruption and often used as a means of political patronage. The recently unearthed CRPF recruitment scam and the UP police recruitment drama being played out as a turf battle between Mayawati and Mulayam are prime manifestations of this – and, one fears, merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Inadequacies in training of policemen and officers to tackle the emerging challenges have been pointed out time and time again. The training needs to evolve, encompassing counter terrorism and basic ‘military’ skills. The standard of physical fitness of the average policeman, and his dexterity in handling his weapon, need drastic improvement. The days when the baton was all that he needed to wield are long gone. Interestingly, most of the weapons issued to the constabulary are actually fit as mere batons and no more. Today when terrorists and criminals are armed with sophisticated automatic weapons, bulk of the police force is armed with .303 Lee Enfield Rifles of pre WW I vintage. Hand held communication equipment is scarce, as was evident from the visuals of commands being shouted across during the Chitrakoot encounter. The images of a 19th century force battling a 21st century foe would have been comical had they not been so chillingly ominous in their portents. In this day and age when the required hardware is indigenous and affordable, it is difficult to comprehend the reason for not being able to arm and equip our police forces, save for the apathy of the government and its preoccupation with other mundane issues.

Morale of the force also needs to be addressed. The pay and allowances, service conditions and quality of life of the ordinary policeman leave a lot to be desired. Similarly officers are plagued with constant political interference, frequent transfers and sundry intimidation, often preventing them from discharging their duties conscientiously. While all these, and many more related issues, have been highlighted by successive committees and commissions, mere lip service instead of action has been the norm. The government needs to read the sign of times at long last, and initiate urgent measures enabling our police forces to tackle the challenging times ahead.

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