World Bank’s ‘Global Economic Forecast’ for June 2017 has projected the Indian economy’s growth (2017-18) to be 7.2 to 7.8 per cent. Forbes has said that this would make India the fourth fastest growing economy in the world. India is also accelerating financial reforms for introducing revolutionary changes in its tax regime by adopting GST (Goods & Services Tax) which would ‘integrate the country’s US$2 trillion economy with 1.3 billion consumers’. Observers say that this is India’s ‘second awakening’ after Independence on 15 August 1947.
However, this commitment for reforms has not been reflected in our system of ‘rule of Law’ by reforming the existing colonial law and order regime in India. This is unfortunate, since India is expected to emerge as the most populous country in the world with 1.5 billion population surpassing China by 2030, according to UN estimates. No Central government in independent India has recognized the relationship between rule of law and development as highlighted by the United Nations (UNDP) with five recognized goals of development in their ‘Post 2015 Development Agenda’. We have not reformed our institutions to implement these goals especially ‘preventing, mitigating and deterring conflict, crime and violence’. No worthwhile economic or infrastructural development can happen if governments fail to control disorder.
Vappala Balachandran, well known security and intelligence specialist has now published a book Keeping India Safe —The Dilemma of Internal Security. It reveals for the first time that India is the only country in the world to have a peculiar legal system of entrusting the entire responsibility of maintaining peacetime internal security to our fragmented police units in twenty-nine states without any concurrent obligation on the Centre except in grave emergencies. By a strange coincidence, this responsibility now extends even to domestic and international terrorism. Balachandran has narrated several instances how in this process the rule of law of the entire country had broken down. The 1992 Babri Masjid demolition had resulted in country-wide communal riots with 2,026 deaths as the concerned state rejected Central reinforcement of 20,000 troops on partisan political considerations.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), India witnessed 789 communal riots in 2015 with 1174 casualties. In addition 722 were killed through terrorist strikes. These incidents were widespread affecting normal lives in urban and rural areas. Left wing extremism which is against any development activity has also shown an increase in 2016 (433 deaths) compared to 2015 (251 deaths). Balachandran has remarked: ‘A recurrent feature in all these riots was the initial inadequate handling of the situation by the local police out of sheer inefficiency, local prejudices or lack of imagination, which exacerbated the situation, thereby needing central intervention. After central forces arrived, both communities welcomed their impartial operations. At the same time, another feature was the inordinate delay of the central forces, including armed forces, in reaching the locations, resulting in needless loss of lives and destruction of property.’
He has explained that this peculiar situation had arisen because our constitution makers copied Schedule 7 of the Government of India Act 1935 on the Centre–State distribution of subjects. In our new constitution, this became Schedule 7, placing ‘Police’ and ‘Public order’ with the states. But they ignored that the 1935 Act was enacted by the British Government to weaken the freedom movement. None had put this better than Oxford Professor David Steinberg who had remarked: ‘By giving Indian politicians a great deal of power at the provincial level, while denying them responsibility at the Centre, it was hoped that Congress, the only national party, would disintegrate into a series of provincial fiefdoms.’
It’s also unfortunate that the makers of India’s Constitution ignored the warning of Dr K. M. Munshi, also one of India’s founding fathers who told the Constituent Assembly on 15 June 1949: ‘I would warn the Members who are still harping on the same subject to remember one supreme fact in Indian history: that the glorious days of India were only the days, whether under the Mauryas or the Moghuls, when there was a strong central authority in the country, and the most tragic days were those when the central authority was dismembered by the provinces trying to resist it.’
Balachandran gives reasons why the twenty-nine State police systems are not able to enforce the ‘rule of law’ as they are burdened with a mind-boggling array of duties: ‘These duties included investigating crime; maintaining law and order; regulating traffic; collecting fines; issuing licences to eateries, horse-drawn “tongas” and bullock carts; locating missing persons; impounding stray cattle; killing stray dogs; disposing of unclaimed dead bodies; rounding up beggars; working as police “orderlies”; collecting political intelligence; protecting vital installations like offices, factories, bridges or water storage areas; escorting prisoners and important persons; undertaking counter-insurgency operations and defending international borders.’
In fact, for over a hundred years, the police in India had been performing duties that were a microcosm of what the entire government machinery was supposed to do. Yet even now the state politicians and Courts are burdening them with more non-police duties like enforcement of social reform laws, prevention of urban encroachments, forestalling mangroves, destruction and detection of illegal residential floors by rogue house builders.
He adds pithily: ‘The police are stretched far beyond their capacity to meet innumerable challenges. The life of an average policeman in India continues to be strained when, in addition to his usual police duties, he is also held responsible for a minister’s stolen buffalos [something for which five policemen in Uttar Pradesh were reported to have been suspended]. Or when asked to trace a minister’s lost pet dog, something that happened in Jaipur while the cops were busy investigating a case of dacoity and gang rape. The same policeman will be held responsible if his area is hit by terrorists.’
Further, Balachandran says that in the past only Centralized efforts had successfully solved national security threats like suppression of Thugs in the nineteenth century or the Telengana and Naga insurgencies immediately after Independence. William Henry Sleeman (1788–1856) had raised a legally equipped Central police force to suppress Thugs between 1829 and 1848. He had prosecuted 4,500 Thugs, resulting in death sentences to 504 and life terms to 3,000. The handling of the Telengana insurgency (1946–51) in three phases was unique as its final suppression was entrusted to the late B.N. Mullik, Director Intelligence Bureau. It was perhaps the only experience in a democracy anywhere in the world that the entire administration, including law and order of a portion of a state was given to the central intelligence bureau (IB) with a mandate to get rid of the insurgents. Years later, the Justice Punchhi Commission (2007–10) would recommend a similar model of ‘localized emergency’ of temporarily entrusting the entire administration of a part of a state including development and law and order to a civilian administrator. But no government has implemented this good suggestion since 2010. Had we adopted this, we would have been successful in dealing with the present Maoist insurgency which is raging in India’s heartland.
As a result of this strange legal system, the Central government also failed to prevent terrorist strikes like the 26/11 Mumbai attacks by leaving the entire responsibility to the state government despite their constitutional responsibility under Article 355. Even now, New Delhi is content by watching from the sidelines.
Keeping India Safe offers examples of internal security in other countries and suggests a number of security reforms by giving a more active role to the Central government to achieve the UNDP goal of connecting the rule of law with development, both strongly inter-related and mutually reinforcing.
(Keeping India Safe is now available in bookstores. Buy it here: http://amzn.to/2qubpyc)