Police reform is a can that has been kicked down the road by successive political dispensations. Speaking on this subject, Justice Gautam Patel of the Bombay High Court recently stressed the need to follow due process of law even if it was lengthy, opining that films like Singham send a harmful message about the moral righteousness of extra-judicial punishments. His comments deserve attention for the loopholes in police conduct are numerous. Most of the remedies suggested by the National Police Commission in its eight reports between 1979 and 1981 — pertaining to the treatment of accused, especially women, while in custody, political interference in police work, and the tenures held by police officers, among other issues — remain unimplemented. The landmark case of Prakash Singh vs Union of India, which was alluded to by Justice Patel, advocated the formation of a Police Complaints Authority in every district to allow aggrieved citizens to lodge complaints against police graft and high-handedness as well as the formulation of a Police Establishment Board to decide, without political bias, the postings and promotions of police officers. But the implementation of such reforms has been shoddy and the reception from all quarters cold: for example, only 18 states have so far tabulated laws resembling the Model Police Act, 2006 framed by the Soli Sorabjee Committee.
The representation of the police in popular culture — oscillating between the comical, subservient lackey and the supercop who is judge, jury and executioner — is in need of reform too. The lawkeeper is duty-bound to work within the boundaries of the law, not outside it, despite the slow-moving wheels of justice. That is the only way to ensure that the police as an institution does not turn rogue and remains accountable to the people.