14 years post Supreme Court judgement, Sikkim yet to fully fulfil police reform directives

Sikkim among the 13 states that have overall non-compliance in Supreme Court directives on police reform

14 years post Supreme Court judgement, Sikkim yet to fully fulfil police reform directives
Image Source: Sikkim Police

On September 22 2006, the Supreme Court of India delivered a historic judgement on the case of Prakash Singh and Others vs Union of India and Ors 2006 (8) SCC 1, which directed all the states in India to follow seven directives for police reform.

A report was published by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative in 2020 which is described as a “quantitative assessment of the status of compliance by states and union territories with the Supreme Court directives on police reforms on paper (as provided for in the Police Act or the government order)”. All grading on the states and UTs on compliance is based on set parameters for each directive. In a not so shocking finding, Sikkim remains as one of the states that has not fulfilled a single directive.

 

The History

A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed by two Director Generals of Police (DGPs) Prakash Singh and NK Singh in 1996, asking the Supreme Court to implement recommendations by the National Police Commission (NPC) in central and state governments. Before this, in the period of 1979-81, the NPC was tasked to give recommendations for the same and subsequently, eight reports containing topic-specific recommendations, including a Model POlice Bill was produced but even after this release, it wasn’t implemented which led to the two DGPs to approach the SC to file the PIL since these recommendations were not adopted by any government.

Following this, the Ministry of Home Affairs set up a Committee headed by Julio Roberto, a retired IPS officer and two reports were handed in 1999. Additionally, the Padmanabhaiah Committee Report was also handed in 2000.

Legislative models replacing the 1861 Police Act, a colonial law, began with the Police Act Drafting Committee in 2006, which released a new model police bill in October 2006 and further revised in 2015 by another specialist Committee.

The 2006 judgement of the SC directed that these reforms were binding on central and state governments until appropriate legislation was framed, which was monitored by the SC until 2008 where the task was taken up by a three-member Monitoring Committee with a two-year mandate to examine compliance by the states and report its progress. The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) which is “an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, international non-governmental organisation working in the area of human rights”.

Through the CHRI’s reports, it “draws attention to the progress and setbacks to human rights in Commonwealth countries. In advocating for approaches and measures to prevent human rights abuses, CHRI addresses the Commonwealth Secretariat, the United Nations Human Rights Council members, civil society and the media on criminal justice concerns. It works on and collaborates around public education programmes, policy dialogues, comparative research, media dissemination advocacy and networking on the issues of Access to Information and Access to Justice”.

The CHRI is important in this matter because they had regularly submitted their findings to the Committee, which finally issued their report in 2010 which reported the lack of compliance in central and state governments in adopting the recommendations.

 

What are the directives?

The directives are as follows:

Directive One: State Governments directed to constitute a State Security Commission in every State to ensure that the State Government does not exercise unwarranted influence or pressure on the State police and for laying down the broad policy guidelines so that the State police always acts according to the laws of the land and the Constitution of the country.

Directive Two: The Director-General of Police of the State shall be selected by the State Government from amongst the three senior-most officers of the Department who have been empanelled for promotion to that rank by the Union Public Service Commission on a merit-based transparent process and secure tenure of minimum two years.

Directive Three:  Police Officers on operational duties to be prescribed minimum tenure of two years.

Directive Four: To separate investigating police from the law and order police to ensure speedier investigation, better expertise and improved rapport with the people.

Directive Five: To set up a Police Establishment Board in each State which shall decide all transfers, postings, promotions and other service-related matters of officers of and below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police.

Directive Six: To set up a Police Complaints Authority at the district level to look into complaints against police officers of and up to the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police. Similarly, there should be another Police Complaints Authority at the State level to look into complaints against officers of the rank of Superintendent of Police and above on allegations of serious misconduct by the police personnel, which would include incidents involving death, grievous hurt or rape in police custody, allegations of extortion, land/house grabbing or any incident involving serious abuse of authority.

Directive Seven: To set up a National Security Commission at the Union level to prepare a panel for selection and placement of Chiefs of the Central Police Organisations (CPO), who should also be given a minimum tenure of two years.

A quick glance at the CHRI report

Out of 28 states in the nation, only Arunachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur and Nagaland are fulfilling a minimum of one directive.

Partial fulfilment of atleast one directive is being implemented in Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Tamil Nadu and Uttarkhand.

A statistical chart showing compliance or lack of in states/UTs. Image credited to India Spend

 

It is quite odd that out of the eight Northeastern states, only four states have fully complied or partially complied to atleast one directive. Yet, Sikkim is not one of them. Sikkim is one of the 13 states that has not complied to a single recommendation set by the SC judgement.

 

How compliant is Sikkim?

Briefly, without lengthy discussions, the following are the ways in which Sikkim is either complying with or not complying with the directives set by the apex court.

In compliance with:

  • the requirement to prepare an annual report and table it before the State legislature.
  • the requirement to provide 2-year minimum tenure
  • Some measures are taken to separate investigation and law and order duties by either constituting special investigation units at police stations for specific offences, or for select geographical areas
  • Constituted a Police Establishment Board on paper
  • Constituted State Police Complaints Authority (SPCA) on paper

 

In non-compliance with:

  • Omitting shortlisting by the UPSC and give state governments the sole discretion to select the candidates for the DGP’s post
  • Includes problematic provisions for premature removal such as “on other administrative grounds to be recorded in writing” or “in the public interest”, which form the liability of misinterpretation and misuse in various ways
  • Inclusion of the provision to consult the SSC in the decision to remove the DGP.
  • The minimum tenure which is provided only for IG, SP and SHO and leaves out DIG in charge of a range
  • The minimum tenure which is selectively laid down and does not include all the ranks indicated by the Court
  • Laying down vague and objective grounds for premature removal, including for any other reasons or administrative grounds, to meet any other contingency, in the public interest, subject to promotion and retirement of other officers
  • Not constituting District Police Complaints Authority (DPCA) on paper
  • Specifying a selection panel for the selection of independent members of the PCA. In other states, other members are either ex-officio members or are appointed directly by the state government
  • Making PCA recommendations binding
  • Providing for the appointment of independent investigators to assist the authority in conducting inquiries

It should be clear by now why the CHRI report states that Sikkim is overall non-compliant. There is minimal fulfilment and the state government seems to have more hand in posting, transfers, appointment and removal of police officers than the institution of state police.

 

Reports of police brutality in Sikkim

Although Sikkim has always maintained a peaceful image to the rest of the nation, that image is cracked by various instances of police brutality.

The most notable incident that the state remembers is the lathicharge ordered by the then IGP Akshay Sachdeva on the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha party supporters during the inaugural function of the Party Head Office situated in Tadong on 11th February 2013. Many were beaten brutally and arrested by the police, as per the party statement.

Then there was the infamous lathicharge and tear-gassing on the students of Tadong Government College, for protesting against a fee hike by organizing a sit-in at their college gates and blocking traffic on NH10. The then East District SP Manoj Tewari had ordered the lathicharge and implementation of Section 144CrPC in the area.

Many students were injured and despite the rollback of the hike, they demanded action on the those who ordered such a brutal assault. Subsequently, four individuals were suspended for their involvement in the same -the then Director of Higher Education Deepa Basnet, Tadong college principal M P Kharel, the then East district SP Manoj Tewari and Sadar station house officer (SHO) SR Shenga.

In another violent incident, on January 2 2016, a 20-year-old was found dead outside an electronic shop in Singtam, East Sikkim only a few hours after he was picked up by the Singtam Police the night before for an alleged minor quarrel in a hotel situated within the town.

The family of the deceased had not been informed of the police custody during the night and claimed that he passed away from police brutality and it was a custodial death. Public outrage gave way to many to vandalize the station and seek stringent action on those responsible for the death. Apparently, a similar case had been reported from the same police station on 9 November 2007.

Following are excerpts of pending enquiry from Sikkim State Human Rights Commission Gangtok from the period 2015-16 as stated in their annual report:

To protect or punish?

For a state as politically driven as Sikkim, this report should come as no surprise and this is not in judgement of any specific political party or leader. Any ruling party that governs the state has seemingly failed to uphold what most of the Indian citizens believe to be the most important screws in the machinery of India’s democracy, the Judiciary, which is an independent body and primarily is not supposed to be influenced by political parties as the basis of its structure is fairness in judgement.

Citizens are at a certain level afraid of the police; the law enforcement establishment and its officers are seen as weapons for cracking down on dissent and bending towards certain political parties/leaders. In 2020 itself, India saw massive outrage on social media and in real life with regard to the brutal treatment of people by the police.

Juxtaposed against the police’s motto of “to serve and protect” lies images and videos of police officers beating students with lathis, reports of women being sexually harassed during the protests at Shaheen Bagh and more. How many truly feel protected and not punished?

Is it time for the law and enforcement agencies to be held accountable for their failures and offences? Will there be a change in the system that is currently failing its primary motto? Will this report become a wake-up call not just to the state police but the government and citizens?

Read more related articles:

Liquor R(h)ush: Why Sikkim’s liquor business is faring...

How can PWDs be Atma-Nirbhar while incumbently needing...

The NEP 2020 – What does it mean for schools?