Referring every case to the Central Bureau of Investigation is no solution. The police force of a state must gain credibility so that the locals trust it for justice and the central agency — the Union government’s “caged parrot” that is not wholly reliable either — is not overburdened with cases.

On 16 March, DK Ravi, the Additional Commissioner of Commercial Taxes Department, Bangalore, was found dead under mysterious circumstances in his city apartment. The death has been declared prima facie a suicide by Karnataka Police. However, there was no indication of the 35-year old IAS officer suffering from depression, according to his friends and colleagues. Nor was any suicide note found.

Since he joined the Indian Administrative Service in 2009, the young officer of the Karnataka cadre had distinguished himself with excellent service. In his brief but sparkling career, he had proven to be an honest and efficient officer and a nemesis for those flouting the law with money and muscle power.

Earlier, as the deputy commissioner of the Kolar district, he had singlehandedly fought the sand mafia that was supported by corrupt politicians. Through his good work, he had become the darling of the tribal population and the Dalits of the district and his premature transfer to Bangalore, allegedly due to pressure by the sand mafia on the Siddaramiah government, had witnessed serious petitions and vehement protests from the local populace.

In his new role, Ravi had stepped on the heat on a number of realty firms for tax evasion. Reports say that just before his mysterious death, dubbed “suicide” by the state police, he was about to recover the revenue dues of these firms, which would total more than a hundred crore rupees.

With the tragic death of such an officer, the question that has inevitably come up is that of the safety and security of honest and efficient officers who take on the high and mighty and, in the process, come in direct clash with vested interests. With the opposition BJP, Ravi’s parents and a large number of other IAS officers crying foul on his death, there is a growing demand of referring the case to the CBI for the sake of unbiased investigation. Whether or not Ravi’s death was suicide or cold-blooded murder, the irrefutable fact remains that his untimely demise will benefit the land mafia in Bangalore immensely.

The land mafia has long been a bane of the landowners, especially in south Bangalore, along the vast stretches on Bannerghata Road and Hosur Road. The finger of accusation has also been pointed constantly at the state police as well as BBMC, the municipal corporation, with allegations of their direct involvement with and covert support for the land mafia.

The ubiquitous land mafia

The scourge of land mafia is nothing new in India with the problem infesting itself in many of the Indian states, north to south. States like Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, among others, are plagued with this organised ill over the decades. The nexus between the perpetrators of organised crime and different wings of the local bodies of law enforcement and governance like the police, municipality and other government bodies is quite ubiquitous. The disruptive forces of the land mafia have been especially felt in places like Gurgaon, the NOIDA area and outskirts of Delhi in the north of the country. In south India, land mafia has been active in big cities like Bangalore and Hyderabad, as well as elsewhere.

In many places there have been good work done by honest officers to curb the mafia. Their actions have been complemented by efforts of many RTI activists. However, many of these crusaders have paid for their courage and diligence with their lives. Honest and able officers have also been transferred regularly for trying to uphold the law. Ravi’s case is a similar one. The circumstances in which Ravi was found dead remind one of how civil servant Satyendra Dubey, an engineer in the National Highway Authority of India, and Indian Oil Corporation sales executive S Manjunath were killed in 2003 and 2005, respectively, for exposing organised crime and corruption. The two older cases were solved through CBI investigations, but referring every such case to the central agency cannot be the standard operating procedure of ensuring justice in the states.

In the present situation, the pressing need of the hour is to protect honest officers at any cost so that they can execute their actions properly. It has become imperative to provide security not only to their lives and persons but also to ensure that they are not harassed continually through endless transfers in their career.

Police reforms

It is to be noted that when vested interests are involved, it becomes impossible for the local law enforcement agency, namely the state police, to operate independently. With political interests at stake, nor is it likely that an investigation would be pursued in an unbiased manner. If the state government’s reputation is at stake, it will not allow a fair investigation and misdeeds will go undetected and unpunished.

Without reinventing the wheel, the Supreme Court’s verdict in former IPS officer Prakash Singh’s case and its order must be implemented in full measure by all states.

On 22 September 2006, the Supreme Court of India delivered a historic judgment in Prakash Singh vs Union of India instructing central and state governments to comply with a set of seven directives laying down practical mechanisms to kick-start police reform. The Court’s directives seek to achieve two main objectives: functional autonomy for the police — through security of tenure, streamlined appointment and transfer processes, and the creation of a “buffer body” between the police and the government — and enhanced police accountability, both for organisational performance and individual misconduct. After decades of public pressure, lack of political will and continued poor policing, a police reform process is finally budding. The need for reform is particularly acute as the archaic Police Act of 1861 continues to govern policing, despite far reaching changes in governance.

In 1996, two former Director Generals of Police took the issue to the Supreme Court, requesting the Court to direct central and state governments to address the most glaring gaps and bad practice in the functioning of the police. Given the “gravity of the problem” and “total uncertainty as to when police reforms would be introduced”, the Supreme Court considered in 2006 that it could not “further wait for governments to take suitable steps for police reforms” and had to issue “appropriate directions for immediate compliance”. These directions are binding upon governments until they frame “appropriate legislation”.

The Supreme Court required all governments, at centre and state levels, to comply with the seven directives by 31 December 2006 and to file affidavits of compliance by the 3rd of January 2007. State government responses have varied tremendously, ranging from complying in time with the directives through executive orders, to expressing strong objections to the directives and asking the Court to review them. Others have requested the Court to grant them more time to comply with the judgment. On 11 January 2007, the Supreme Court cast away the objections raised and stated that its directions had to be complied with without any modification. The Court granted a three month extension to comply with four of its directives, while stating that the others had to be complied with immediately.

The answer lies in making the police an autonomous body. However, this would involve a lot of boldness, courage and goodwill on part of our legislators. The biggest roadblock to this would be the fact that the politicians would be hardly willing to let go of their hold and sway over the police. There is hardly any political party with a clean slate. Therefore, it is expected that someone influential would baulk at the prospect of a fair investigation into each case.

In this scenario, it would be fair to grant at least partial autonomy to the police force. The police should have autonomy regarding postings, transfers and promotions. The meddling of the politicians in the investigations can stop to a great extent if a minimum fixed tenure is allocated to postings of the police officers. Additionally, partial autonomy should also extend to transfers and promotions of officers. This will encourage the efficient policemen to work more honestly and diligently, and without actual fear or favour.

A partially autonomous police force will perform a far better job than the existing entities we have in India. In the greater interest of the nation, it would be paramount to preserve honest civil officers like Ravi, who are assets not just to the bureaucracy but to the society in general. This, in turn, would require a police force at least partially independent of the political masters. This issue, therefore, needs to be advocated and furthered not only for the improvement of the law and order situation but also for the general betterment and evolution of society.

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