Policing in the North-East
Seventh Report of the National Police Commission, May, 1981
The North-East has been in a state of turmoil for some years now. Some of the recent incidents of violence, in Tripura, where the number of persons killed was one of the highest in any riot in recent years. Manipur, Meghalaya, Assam, Mizoram and on Assam-Nagaland border, show how inflammable the situation is. They are posing a serious threat to the security and stability not only of this region but of the entire country. The police set-up, which has been expanded in most of these States only recently, and that too in an ad hoc manner, has miserably failed to cope up with the situation. The problems of policing in the North-East are far too complex and varied. They require a highly professional, well organised and trained police force, which is at the same time aware and responsive to the needs of the tribals, to deal with them. An ad hoc approach in dealing with this highly complicated and explosive situation will not do. The whole country is already paying very high price for this situation and if not effectively dealt with, many have to pay a much higher price, even endangering the stability and security of the country.
The region comprises of 7 States, popularly known as the 7 sisters: Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh. It has a population of over 20 million and cover an area of about 2.55 lakhs square kilometres -- almost 8% of the total area of the country. Mostly hilly, it is one of the most picturesque parts of the country. Railways have hardly penetrated the region, and even though many new roads have been constructed, the communications are still very spare and difficult. The remote areas in the interior are still completely isolated; one sometimes wonders whether the march of history has passed them by. The region is situated on the very sensitive borders of our country. The long international borders stretch along China, Tibet, Bhutan, Burma and Bangladesh. It is connected with the rest of the country by a narrow strip of land -- 17 miles broad -- near the 'Doars' in West Bengal. The traumatic experience of the 1962 war with China has left its imprint on the minds of the people. There is a climate of insecurity. The realisation dawned on them of the first time, how tenuous these geographical links were with the rest of the country.
From the beginning of the British rule, the North-East was treated as a non-regulated area. Any legal enactments made for the rest of the country could not automatically be enforced in these areas, except when they were specifically adopted for them. The administrative system as it developed in this region was quite different from that in the rest of the country. Most of the administration was left by the British to the tribal chiefs. A number of armed outposts were later set up, not with the intention of administering the tribals, but only to keep a watch over them. There was no regular policing. The British had a great deal of difficulty in dealing with the tribals residing in the hilly areas of the North-East and they deliberately kept certain areas as "excluded areas" from the rest of the country with two fold objectives:
The influence of the missionaries in the late 19th and the early 20th
century has given the traditional tribal culture a veneer of Western
culture. The tribals, particularly the educated sections, have increasingly
taken to the west dress, music and dancing. Moreover, the script of
the tribal language is mostly English and a large section of the tribal
population is Christian.
Source: INDIA, 1980.
The tribals used to consider themselves as free people during the British
rule, but short-sighted policies allowed an unfortunate impression to
grow, no doubt aided and abetted by mischievous propaganda, that they
have been subjugated to after the exploitation and departure of the
British. The policy makers in Delhi rightly decided that the solution
of the border problem lay in bringing the area into the mainstream of
the country's life by properly administering it, and extending to it
the benefits of development economy, but unfortunately they did not
quite appreciate the historical perspective and the tribal social structure
and temper their effort to these vital factors. The tribal was not used
to too much government control and it was a mistake to force our administrative
system on them. The situation was further aggravated by the fact that
the senior and middle level bureaucrats and the police officers who
were sent to these areas were total misfits. These being remote and
inaccessible areas there was a natural reluctance on the part of good
officers to be posted to these areas with the result that the bulk of
the officers sent to these areas were rejects and misfits. They were
the people who were primarily responsible for the image of the "ugly
Indian". We have separately discussed the problems of personnel
and given some suggestions.
Police presence should be concentrated in the border areas and other
important areas from the law and order point of view. In Assam and the
plains areas of Tripura the modern pattern of policing as prevailing
in the rest of the country can be extended. In the urbanised areas like
Aizawl and Kohima and other areas which have been linked with railway
or roads should have the infrastructure of modern policing to cope with
the increasing number of crimes and criminals, but it should take seriously
into account the tribal laws, customs and institutions. Thus policing
in these areas will have to be a judicious mixture of the tribal system
and the modern system. The interior tribal areas should be left to be
policed entirely by the traditional tribal institutions. As regards
policing of the border areas we have discussed the subject separately
in the later part of this Chapter. The underlying principle for the
North-East should be minimum policing; no interference in the tribal
laws, customs and institutions; policing on the basis of the gravity
of offence and the sensitivity of areas i.e. border areas and areas
having mixed population of different tribes and non-tribals.
We cannot fix any criteria for the establishment of a new police station. The factors such as population, areas, crime will have to be taken into consideration but the approach will have to be flexible. In areas where mixed population given rise to disputes between tribals and non-tribals and between different tribals, new police stations/ police posts should be opened to inculcate a sense of security. The condition of the buildings of the police stations in this region is uniformly very poor and this needs to be attended to urgently. Proper buildings are also necessary from the security point of view, because of the activities of hostile elements. There should be proper security arrangements for the protection of the police stations. The system of maintenance of records in the police stations should be simplified, taking into consideration the capacity of an average tribal police officer. Only the essential records with simple procedures should be maintained. Similarly, the investigation procedures should be simplified. There is no point in extending the already out of date Assam Police Manual to these areas. A new Police Manual taking into consideration the special requirements of the region should be drafted expeditiously so that the force can start functioning on the right lines.
Insurgency is the most serious problem in Mizoram, Nagaland, bordering areas of Tripura and Manipur. In recent years the problem has also spread to plains of Manipur. In Manipur the activities of extremists among the Meiteis have introduced a new dimension of urban terrorism to the problem. The security forces, including the army and the paramilitary forces, are present in large numbers to deal with the activities of the insurgents. The problem in the long run, however, has to be tackled by the police. The main difficulty in dealing with the activities of the insurgents is their identification. The methods sometimes followed, which may be effective temporarily, have led to avoidable bitterness. The practice of surrounding village lining up all the male members, then searching the village has caused a lot of harassment to innocent people. While it is true that no insurgency activity can flourish without the support of the people, it must also be appreciated that any action which further alienates the local population will only help the insurgents. Ultimately the problem will have to be tackled by isolating the extremist elements and winning over the local population. The lesson learnt both in Mizoram and Nagaland tell us that effective police action can be very successful. The capacity of the police to absorb casualties is relatively low but it can play important complementary role to the army and para-military forces in tackling the situation. The army should, however, as far as possible, not be passed for day-to-day policing. Such a role is not the function of the armed forces and by using them for such purposes we can only succeed in belittling these forces, our ultimate forces in the eye of the people. This is not fair to our gallant armed forces. The present situation in Manipur, particularly in the valley where the army has almost taken over fully the subordinate role of the police in dealing with the activities of the Meitei extremists, is largely due to the failure of the police itself. This is due in no small measure because of its own weaknesses, particularly because of the wrong personnel policies, and the political and bureaucratic interference in its day-to-day functioning. The police must be organised on proper lines and it must be allowed to play its legitimate role. In addition we recommend the following measures to deal more effectively with the problem of insurgency :-
Intelligence set up
The success or failure of operations against the insurgents will depend largely on how successfully the extremist elements can be identified. This in turn will depend on how promptly and correctly the intelligence agencies are able to collect information about them. At present this responsibility is being shared by many intelligence agencies. The Intelligence Bureau, the Army Intelligence, the Border Security Force, the RAW, the SSB, in addition to the local intelligence set up have all been operating in this region. It has been brought to our notice that due to lack of coordination, at times these agencies have been functioning at cross purpose, instead of working towards a common objective i.e. identification and capture of the hostile elements. Rivalries among junior functionaries of these agencies, have been hampering the operations against the insurgents. There are reports that at times even the sources of one agency are exposed and threatened by the other. We were informed that in one insurgency torn Union Territory the source of one of the agencies escorted by their intelligence officers was forcibly kidnapped along with the officers by the officers of another agency. This situation is exploited by the hostile elements. There have also been cases where clever sources have taken more than one agency for a ride. It is absolutely essential that the work of all these agencies and its members should be constituted at the level of the Lt. Governor in the Union Territories and at the level of Governor in the States. A coordination committee with the representatives of all the agencies as its members should be constituted by the Governor or Lt. Governor. This Committee should meet as frequently as possible and at least once a month to take stock of the current situation, compare notes and plan new strategy. All information should be conveyed directly to the Lt. Governor or the Governor for appropriate action or instructions instead of routing it through their own headquarters as is the practice at present. Any delay in passing an information renders it sometimes absolutely useless, because by the time the information filters down to the operational level, the extremists have already managed to slip away or move away from that area.
Wrong choice of personnel posted to these areas is one single most
important cause of the administration into disgrace. The posts in the
North-East are considered as punishment posts and officers with bad
record, who have to be got rid of are usually sent there.
We further recommend that similarly the tribal officers from the region should be encouraged for posting outside the region. The present rules are such that tribal officers when posted outside the tribal area suffer loss in their emoluments and other facilities. They not only have to pay income tax when posted in the plain areas, but also loss some allowances which they are entitled to when posted in the tribal areas. This is an anomaly and a disincentive which should be removed. The tribal officers should, when posted outside the tribal areas, continue to enjoy the same emoluments and facilities as they are entitled to when posted to the tribal region.
In recent years there has been a big increase in the strength of the police, but the recruitment at various levels of the police force has been done in a very haphazard manner. This has not helped in improving the efficiency of the police. There are complaints of nepotism and corruption. Because of the small population the evil of nepotism is much more widespread in these areas. Rules should be framed for recruitment at all levels and there should be no departure from the norms laid down in the rules. To make it a homogenous force, as far as possible, persons from all tribes and sections in the area should be recruited. We have separately dealt with the subject of armed police later in this chapter.
Because of the rapid expansion little or no thought has been given to the promotional policy. While in some cases the promotions have been very rapid, in other cases after the first few years there is complete blockade, with the result that considerable frustration has been caused. Executive and political interference in the internal administration of the police department, which is on a much larger scale in these areas than in the rest of the country, has further affected its moral and efficiency. In Manipur the interference in the police administration has gone to such an extent that the Inspector General cannot promote even an Assistance Sub-Inspector without the consent of the State Government. The State Government is interfering in a big way in the postings and transfers of the officers at the lower and middle ranks. It is, therefore, not surprising that the morale of the police in Manipur is one of the lowest in the whole of the country. The job of policing recently had to be handed over to the army and this has its own chain of undesirable consequences as discussed earlier. Things have come to such a pas that even in Imphal the army had to be called in to deal with the law and order situation.
Lack of supervision at various levels is another cause for inefficiency and indiscipline in the police force of this region. Poor means of communications no doubt make touring of the interior areas somewhat difficult but it should be possible for officers to do much more touring than they have been doing with the available means of communication. At present helicopters are being used exclusively for the VIPs and by the army. There should be closer cooperation between the police administration and the army and the air force, so that full use is made of the available helicopters which frequently go empty. The police should be allowed to share this facility without adversely affecting the needs of the army. The present instructions restricting the use of the empty seats only to the army officers should be revised to include the police officers as well.
Another important cause of the police failures is poor training of its personnel. The training facilities are most inadequate. In most of the States and the Union Territories after the initial training, which is mostly done outside the region, hardly any other training is given. Recently, the North-East Council has started a police training school at Barapani near Shilling. In our view it would be desirable to increase the training facilities at Barapani and it should be possible for this centre to cater to the needs of all the Union Territories and the States in this region except Assam, which can have its own training institution. In addition, all the State and the Union Territories should have their own training institutions to run pre-promotional and refresher courses. Anti-insurgency measures should form an important part of the training syllabus.
In addition to the local armed police, the army and the paramilitary forces are deployed in large numbers in these areas. The para-military forces, though under the operational control of the local police chiefs are not under their disciplinary control, with the result that they have no commitment to the task and are not result oriented. On the other hand the local police tries to pass the buck on to the para-military force and they, specially the Central Reserve Police Force, have become very unpopular in this region. Unless these forces can be motivated to show initiative and drive in dealing with the hostile elements it would not be possible to deal with the insurgents and other complicated problems of law and order. The Border Security Force, the Central Reserve Police Force and the Assam Rifles have tremendous potential. There was a time when the Assam Rifles were the backbone of the law and order machinery in this area. This momentum due to lack of coordination and commitment has been lost over the years. Most of the para-military battalions, it is complained only prepare for the visits of their own senior officers, who live hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles away and come to visit their battalions once a year and that too during fair weather. They have absolutely no interest in the performance and the results achieved by these battalions. Most of the para-military forces outposts have literally become static outposts; they are not running patrols or collecting intelligence to capture the insurgents, arms and ammunition. The local police chief, in our opinion, must have operational and disciplinary control over these forces. There should be close coordination between them, the local police, the army and the intelligence agencies.
To ensure that local pressures do not adversely affect the efficiency, moral and discipline of these forces, we recommend that Article 371A(i)(b) which enables the Governor of Nagaland to have special responsibility for the maintenance of law and order should be extended to any other State when the problem of insurgency raises its head. It should be possible for the Governor or the Lt. Gevernor to use this personal judgement in discharging this responsibility. He should no doubt, consult the Council of Ministers before making his decision, but the Council of Ministers should not be able to question his judgement.
At present quite a few battalions of para-military forces have been deployed in this region more or less on a permanent basis for the last many years. For obvious reasons this is not a very satisfactory arrangement. This task will have to be taken over in due course as the situation improves by the regional armed police. We recommend that instead of recruiting the armed battalions for each State or Union Territory a North-Eastern Rifles or Armed Police should be constituted for the entire region on the Central Reserve Police Force pattern. Recruitment to these armed battalions should be done from all the 7 States and Union Territories. This should be a composite force for the entire region they should be rotated under orders of the Governor of the North-East, or the Ministry of Home Affairs if it is later decided to have more than one Governor in the North-East, every three years. These battalions when posted in a State should be completely under the operational and disciplinary control of the local Inspector General. The present battalions of the Assam Rifles and the State Armed Police will have to be reorganised to convert them into the North-Eastern Rifles or the Armed Police, whichever nomenclature is preferred. Border areas and infiltration Policing the local stretch of borders along the international boundary is a major problem in this region. There are reports that some of the neighbouring countries, not very friendly to us, are supporting the extremists. The explosion of population in Bangladesh is spilling over into the neighbouring States of Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya and Mizoram. In Tripura the tribals have become a minority in their own land. This fear is haunting the Assamese and people of other States in the region. Mischievous elements, with direct or indirect support of some foreign powers are exploiting this fear to create conditions of destabilisation by fanning separatist demands.
At present the borders are being policed by the Border Security Force, the Army and the Assam Rifles. In the interest of more effective policing and better coordination, we recommend that the entire border should be policed by the Border Security Force. The army will, of course, have to continue its supportive role. The distance between the existing border outposts is far too long and needs to be reduced to improve their effectiveness. Many more border outposts will have to be set up within reasonable distance of each other depending on the terrain and other factors, such as road links etc. The difficult terrain makes it very difficult to check the movement of the insurgents. The border police has to play an important role in fighting insurgency. All the forces deployed at the border should be trained in the anti-insurgency measures. Policing in the North-East cannot be done in water tight compartments. We would emphasise once again the need for very close coordination between all the agencies operating in the area. In the task of dealing with the infiltrators coordination between the Border Security Force, the police and the civil administration assumes special importance. The problem of infiltration has to be dealt with firmly and with all the resources at our command. The problem of Chakma infiltrators from Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh into Mizoram needs to be dealt with immediately before it gets out of hand. This problem is further complicated by the fact that the Chakmas are fighting their own battle as "Shanti Bahini": against the Bangladesh Government.
Smuggling is another problem which has already assumed serious proportions in Manipur. There are complaints of connivance by the police and at the political level. A vested interest has developed among the police, the politician and the extremist elements. In some border areas the insurgents are reported to be organising smuggling to finance their underground activities. The border police has an important role to play in tackling the evil which is adversely affecting the morale and functioning of the police and the civil administration. But it will not be possible to tackle this problem without close cooperation between all concerned including the border police.
One of the main reasons for the widespread corruption is that the administration intra-structure is too weak to control effectively the huge expenditure being incurred on the developmental activities and in running the security operations. In the absence of social sanction against corrupt methods, which are helping the hostile elements, there is no other alternative except to strengthen the anti-corruption machinery. There is need for reorganising and strengthening both the State anti-corruption branches and the zonal office of the Central Bureau of Investigation. The anti-corruption branch should not be used for dumping the unwanted, corrupt and the inefficient police officers. Only experienced investigating officers with unimpeachable reputation of integrity should be posted to the anti-corruption branch. Special judges to try these cases expeditiously should be appointed within the State, instead of sending them for trial outside the State, as is the practice in some of the States. The audit machinery should also be strengthened. Accountant General's office is located at Guwahati. This arrangement has not been functioning very effectively. Without proper supervision their teams of officials which go on tours to these States and Union Territories from Guwahati are very perfunctory in work and there is hardly any follow up of the defects found during the audit. In the absence of the audit reports investigation of the anti-corruption cases are sometimes held up for years.
The conditions of the jails in the North-East are uniformaly deplorable. They are mostly housed in makeshift temporary buildings without proper security arrangements. There have been a number of attempts, quite a few of them successful, at jail breaking. All the hard work that goes into the arrest of an extremist comes to naught, when the insurgents are so crowded that all types of prisoners are put together in these temporary structures. The dangerous criminals are getting mixed up with the ordinary criminals. The security arrangements need to be tightened. Some of the jails are being used to propagate the extremist philosophy and have become sources of recruitment for the insurgents. Proper jail buildings should be constructed without any further delay.
The problem of policing in the North-East is very complex. The police which is still a young force in this region should be organised on the right lines. It need not blindly imitate the police set up as it exists in the rest of the country. The social, cutlural, economic and political structure in which the police has to function is so very different in this region. While tackling the many sensitive law and order problems, the administration should not interfere unduly with the traditional tribal customs, laws and institutions. The tribal sense of identity should not be threatened under the garb of introducing a modern system of policing. On the other hand efforts should be made to strengthen some of the tribal institutions like : Gaon Burras: and village Councils, so that they can play a more useful role even in the future.
At the same time such an infrastructure should be built in the police which would be able to cope with the problems of crime and criminals in the area as they increase more and more with the increased tempo of the economic and political activities. A comprehensive new police manual taking into consideration the special features of those areas should be drafted for the North-East. There is no point in extended an already out of date Police system here.