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PUCL Bulletin, February 2007

Corruption in police

-- By Arshrika Singh

[This report is based on newspaper clipping available in the PUCL Reference Library]

What is Corruption? To study this concept it is very important to understand its meaning. Police corruption is defined as the “ abuse of police authority for personal or organisational gain by a police officer acting officially” 1.

It is not an easy concept to understand and it has many complex aspects. But one aspect which stands out is its existence which is spread almost in every part of the world. Corruption can be broken down into two sections, internal and external corruption. With reference to the police department, internal corruption is the illegal acts and agreements within a police department by more than one of the officers and external corruption is the illegal acts and agreements with the public by one or more officers in a department.

The most important elements of police corruption are misuse of authority and misuse of personal attainment. Widespread corruption at every level of the administrative department poses as a great obstacle in its working, efficiently and effectively. It inverts the goals of the organisation, that is, it may encourage and create crime rather than deter it. One of the main causes for this is that the police officials have ceased to act as professionals and are politicized to a great extent. They are manipulated by political leaders, who have misused the power of appointments and transfers to patronize weak or corrupt officers for their own selfish purposes at the cost of public interest. These leaders appoint wrong persons for the top jobs as they are willing to carry out the dictates and wishes of their political masters for their own survival. The main areas for their interference are appointments, transfers, rewards, and punishments. General police corruption includes bribery or exchange of money or something of value between the police and the wrong doer. Other police crimes may range from brutality, fake encounters, sexual harassment, custodial crimes, to illicit use of weapons.

Despite an attempt to eliminate corruption by ways like increased salaries, upgraded training, incentive for education, and developing policies that focus directly on factors leading to corruption, it still exists.

Even though the government spends over 67% of the Home Ministry’s budget on the police, there has been no noticeable improvement in the behavioral and attitudinal pattern of police personnel. Apart from allocating 67% of the budget on police, Rs 800 crores is being spent on modernization of the police forces of states for last three years 2. Yet there is no improvement in the conduct of the police personnel of all ranks.

Police Corruption is also violation of human rights as it denies some very basic rights to the citizens. The fundamental right of being protected by a law enforcing agency, mainly constituted for this purpose is being denied by the prevailing corruption. The right to self-defense is under a threat with more and more cases of custodial crimes and wrongful persecution and prosecution being reported. With the present day situation worsening, the basic Right to life granted under Article 21 of the Constitution is being denied. Cases of fake encounters, rising death toll in the prisons, and unnecessary delay in investigation makes one feel insecure and vulnerable. A Sub-Inspector reportedly, compelled the family of a man who had committed suicide to pay a bribe for the release of his body, in another case a police officer was penalised for extorting money from a trader by threatening to implicate him in a murder case3. Such incidents make it like a commercial transaction. The general public looses trust in the department by such incidents and are lead to believe that everything can be done if one is in position to talk in terms of money or power with the police officials.

Following are some cases reported in the newspapers, from different states that had occurred in the year 2006:

Mumbai - Five policemen accused of allowing passage of arms and ammunitions from Rajgad to Mumbai which were later used in the series of 12 blasts in 1993 were convicted under TADA. A bribe of rupees seven lakh was accepted for aiding this terrorist act4. Delhi - CBI nabbed Sub-Inspector, Incharge of Sarai Kale Khan police post, accepting a bribe. He escaped with Rs 20,000/-; later Rs 50,000/- and 100 grams of drugs were recovered from his drawer in his office. The Sub-Inspector was the investigating officer for a theft case and had asked for rupees two lakh for arranging the bail, from the mother of the person who had been arrested under the case. The said amount was agreed to be paid in instalments.

Uttar Pradesh - 3 police persons sent to jail after they allegedly harassed a couple on their way, in Greater Noida area. Later an FIR was registered under Section 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 354 (assault or use of criminal force against a woman with intent to outrage her modesty), 504 (insult intended to provoke breach of peace), and 506 (criminal intimidation)6 of the Indian Penal Code, against the police officers.

Mumbai - Constable Sunil More, attached to the Marine Drive police station, sentenced to 12 years rigorous imprisonment for raping a minor girl at the Marine Drive police chowky on 21st April, 2005. He was also asked to pay a penalty of Rs 26,500/- to the victim7. Chandigarh - Punjab police lodged an FIR against four police person and dismissed two of them following a sting operation telecast by a news channel in which these officers were shown allegedly taking money for contraband drugs.

Some of the high profile cases which have caught the national attention as they focus on our justice system and the prevailing corruption condition are discussed below:

Jessica Lal Murder Case: Jessica Lal was shot on the night of April 29, 1999, at the Tamarind Court Restaurant in Mehrauli, allegedly owned by Socialite Bina Ramani. The accused, Manu Sharma is the son of Venod Sharma, an influential politician of Haryana. Delhi Police admitted in public that some of its senior officials had committed deliberate lapses in the case. A fresh First Information Report (FIR) was lodged to probe destruction of evidence, criminal conspiracy, and lapses by the police9. The Special Investigation Team informed the Delhi High Court that it had identified police officers and witnesses who had been instrumental in destroying evidence. There are many instances where crucial evidence was tampered by the police persons 10.

Some of these are:

The most vital piece of evidence in the case was the two cartridges found at the murder scene. The cartridges submitted for the investigation purpose were different from the actual ones. The suspects for this switching of the cartridges included the SHO of the Mehrauli Police Station.

Police claimed to have recovered the black Tata Safari in which the co-accused drove away shortly after the murder, along with a live .22 cartridge and pieces of glass. But no mention of this was made in the recovery memos.

The main accused, Manu Sharma, allegedly fled to Chandigarh on the night of April 30, 1999. He and his co-accused were allowed to cross a police barricade after a senior police official called the in-charge of the area to grant them safe passage 11. Seven years since the murder, the Special Investigation Team is yet to submit a report on its fresh findings. The case awaits its final verdict.

Priyadarshini Mattoo’s Murder Case: Priyadarshini, a law student of Delhi University was allegedly raped and murdered at her flat in 1996 by Santosh Singh, son of an IPS officer. The trial judge and the High Court agreed that under the influence of the Santosh’s father J P Singh had manipulated the probe in the initial stages to help the accused. The Delhi High Court criticized the Delhi police “for absolute dereliction of duty”. Terming the police failure to protect the life of a citizen of the state “atrocious”, the bench remarked: “You are the root cause of all this. Had action been taken during that time, the girl (Mattoo) would have been alive. Several instances of negligence on the part of the police officials were noted by the High Court 12.

The police officer who was the Investigating Officer of the case did not record the statement of the key witness, Kuppuswamy, the neighbour of the victim, who saw the accused outside victim’s flat on the day of the murder. His statement was only recorded after the initial investigations were over.

The Investigation Officer also kept evidence like samples of blood and semen collected from the scene of occurrence for four days before handing it to the hospital.

Police officials ignored several complaints made by the victim during 1994-1996 against Santosh Singh for stalking and harassing her.

CBI was charged for not following an ‘official procedure’ in the DNA tests and for keeping away the fingerprint report from the court 13.

The judgment of the Trial Court in 1999 acquitting the accused on the basis of lack of evidence was criticised by the High Court which gave its final verdict in October, sentencing the accused to death penalty.

Shivani Bhatnagar’s Murder Case: Shivani Bhatnagar, a journalist for the Indian Express was found murdered in her flat in East Delhi on 23rd January, 1999. Her murder became a scandal that reached into the top levels of Indian politics. A top ranking officer of the Indian Police Service Ravi Kant Sharma was charged with the murder by the Delhi Police, who investigated the case. R K Sharma and his wife Madhu, have alleged that Bhatnagar’s murder was planned by Pramod Mahajan who was alleged to have been the father of Bhatnagar’s child. It took the police more than 3 years to make the first arrest in the case. The delay in nabbing the accused, the apparent absence of a clear motive in the crime, and the lack of transparency in the case raised several questions.

As the investigation progressed there were constant whispers that the cops were dragging their feet on the case due to involvement of a senior BJP politician. An ACP of the Delhi Police’s Crime Branch was arrested on charges of corruption by derailing the investigations in the case 14.This case too waits for its final verdict to be passed by the court.

Nitish Katara’s Murder Case: Nitish Katara was allegedly kidnapped and murdered on the night of 16th February, 2002, from Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, where he had gone to attend a marriage party. Bharti Yadav, the daughter of former Rajya Sabha MP D P Yadav was allegedly having an affair with Nitish to which her brothers, Vikas and Vishal, had objection. Her brothers have been accused of killing Nitish because of this objection15. Despite Vikas Yadav in his confession admitting that he had first hit Nitish with a hammer on his head and later burnt his body, as claimed by the NDTV news channel, the case still awaits its final verdict due to lack of evidence. The key witness, Bharti Yadav, who had failed to appear before the court, several times in the past in spite of repeated summons, bailable, and non-bailable warrants, finally presented herself for the court’s proceedings on 29th November 2006. The case is being dragged in the court under suspected political influence of the father of the accused, D P Yadav. Three of the key witnesses have turned hostile after receiving life threats and pressure from the family of the accused16.This case is pending at the time of writing this report in the court, as the proceedings are being delayed for all the possible reasons.

The Police Act of 1861 has remained unchanged over 145 years and it is the testament to the unreformed nature of the Indian Police force. Over the years the powerful institutions of law and order have been bent to conform to executive’s will and convenience. The task of improving the existing situation cannot be left to the police department alone. Political authorities and the Union Home Ministry have to step in for stopping the situation from deteriorating further and also for it’s betterment.

A public interest litigation filed by the former Director General of Border Security Force, Prakash Singh, was one of the first initiative taken up in the direction to clean up the corruption in the country’s police force. He believed that India required a police force with a different working philosophy. He said that, after thirty-five years of experience he got an insight into the politicisation, corruption, and criminalisation of the force17. A committee to draft an Act for making the working of the police department transparent and accountable was constituted on 20th September 2005. It is called The Police Act Drafting Committee (PADC).Former Attorney General Soli Sorabjee, ex-BSF chief Ajai Raj Sharma, former Delhi Police Commissioner, the Director-General of the Bureau of Police Research and Development, and some other prominent names from the police force are associated with it. The committee will work towards formulating provisions to deal with issues of terrorism, human rights, crimes against women, and weaker sections of society, and the latest investigation methods18.

Keeping in mind the recommendations to be given by the Committee, the Supreme Court has set the deadline as 31st December 2006 for the Central and State governments to implement these reforms so as to keep country’s police administration above political interference and corruption. These reforms will mainly include:

a) A minimum tenure for DGP’s and other senior officers. b) Setting up of State security commissions. c) Separation of investigation from law and order, and d) Establishment of a police panel to decide transfers and promotions.

Efforts for curbing this widespread social evil, called corruption have to come from both the police and the civil society. Society members should be educated about the negative affects of corruption within the police force and its long term disadvantages. For controlling corruption the police department requires an organisation lead by people of strong character and who have good leadership qualities. The departmental goal should be well defined and should be pursued earnestly.

In today’s situation there is more urgent need to address basic issues like improving the working conditions of the police persons, inhumanly long working hours, the inadequate police-population ratio, a pay structure which is not proportional to the work allocated and, the disproportionately low budget for meeting the day to day expenses. All these are some major factors which are responsible for contributing to the image of the Police Force as insensitive and a corrupt organisation.

As long as a majority of citizens are willing to go along with corrupt police officers, mainly for the reason to obtain favours, there is no way in which corruption can be curbed . For making the picture cleaner and corruption free for the future generation, it is necessary to put in efforts now.

1 As defined by International Encyclopaedia of Justice Studies (IEJS); 2 The Times of India, May 2, 2005; 3 Hindustan Times, November 7, 2005; 4 Hindustan Times, September 27, 2006; 5 The Indian Express, September 23, 2006; 6 Hindustan Times, September 16, 2006; 7 The Indian Express, April 4, 2006; 8 The Hindu, September 27, 2006; 9 Hindustan Times, October 10, 2006; 10 The Hindu, October 10, 2006; 11 The Indian Express, September 17, 2006; 12 The Indian Express, September 28, 2006; 13 Hindustan Times, October 18, 2006; 14 The Indian Express, August 13, 2006; 15 Hindustan Times, September 29, 2006; 16 Hindustan Times, September 28, 2006; 17 The Indian Express, September 25, 2006; 18 The Hindu, September 24, 2006

Arshrika Singha student of ILS Law College, Pune, worked as an intern with the PUCL National office, Delhi .

People's Union for Civil Liberties, 81 Sahayoga Apartmrnts, Mayur Vihar I, Delhi 110091, India. Phone (91) 11 2275 0014