Policing for peanuts
In September 2006, Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh remarked, "Unless the ‘beat constable’ is brought into the
vortex of our counter-terrorist strategy, our capacity to pre-empt future
attacks would be severely limited." This was quickly picked up
by the media, and the "beat constable" was placed in the centre
of the public debate on national security.
There is, however, a disconnect between
what the prime minister says, and what the Government does. The police
constable currently earns between Rs 3050-4590, at par with lowest categories
of government employees. The Sixth Pay Commission, in its great munificence,
has recommended a hike of about Rs 150-310 in the constable’s scales,
increasing his pay to between Rs 3200-4900. This is the bright side.
Many states have scales well below centrally stipulated levels. Gujarat,
for instance, has a current scale of Rs 2750-4400. There are rare exceptions,
like in Kerala, where the scale stands at Rs 5930-9590.
Not only are constables grossly underpaid;
they suffer abysmal working conditions. Across India, "housing
satisfaction" for the police — the proportion of serving personnel
who are provided family quarters — stands at a disgraceful 29.3 per
cent. In India’s capital — boasting "global city" ambitions
— it is an even lower 19.97 per cent. Thus, a majority of constables
leave their families behind in their villages, seeing them rarely, on
grudgingly provided leaves of absence. Those who bring their families
to their place of posting, particularly in cities, end up living in
illegal slums and tenements. Thus, the very condition of their daily
existence constitutes a breach of the law!
Working conditions are no better. Outside
the metropolis, facilities in police stations are, at best, rudimentary.
In rural areas — particularly in ill-governed states — the police operate
out of structures that are often worse than cattle sheds. Here, a BPR&D
study notes, "across the country... they are asked to put in consistently
16 to 18 hours of duty on a continuous basis". In many police stations
and posts, far from fighting the terrorists and insurgents they are
routinely pitted against, policemen lack even the minimal capacities
to defend themselves. Since a majority of constables retire at the rank
at which they join, only a small proportion attains the rank of head
constable; a miniscule number rises to the rank of sub-inspector or
inspector. Career frustration adds to this deadly cocktail.
There is, moreover, a complete mismatch
between the criteria of recruitment and training on the one hand, and
the increasing complexity of the tasks a modern police force is required
to handle. The minimum qualification for recruitment is a Class 10 pass;
some states have pushed that up to 12; a few have reduced it to 8 so
that "rural people have better chances of getting the job".
These barely literate recruits are variously pushed through around a
year of "training" (this has, in at least one case, been reduced
to six months) that principally consists of marching up and down on
a parade ground, physical training, arms training (in many cases, comprising
just a single field firing practice) and a few desultory lectures on
police regulations and law.
The constable, moreover, has been transformed,
through sustained processes of class denigration by the media, the courts,
the political leadership and what passes for "civil society",
into an object of widespread contempt and, as one serving police officer
expresses it, into a "convenient lightning rod that attracts the
charged fury of our so-called civil society". In sum, the constable
operates in "the most degrading conditions that can be humanly
inflicted, in one of the most volatile societies in the world".
And this constable — barely educated,
ill-trained, ill-equipped and held in wide contempt — is expected to
effectively tackle a 21st century scourge like terrorism. Indeed, he
is expected to do this while displaying a sophisticated understanding
of the niceties of the law, and the subtle exercise of powers relating
to arrest, custody, search, seizure, bail, surveillance and the use
In our age of liberalisation and globalisation,
this makes sense: you get what you pay for. India is not paying for
a modern and efficient policing system. India is not paying for a professional
policeman. India is not paying for security. India cannot, consequently,
be secure. The beat constable in India will have to be reinvented, in
terms of educational and training profiles, equipment, living and working
conditions and, crucially, his status in society, before he can be "brought
into the vortex of our counter-terrorist strategy".
(Published in Indian
Express, October 3, 2008)