India’s biggest national security threat isn’t in Kashmir or Chhattisgarh; it is the complete vanishing of the rule of law in giant swathes of the Republic’s territory.
When it was all over, the crowd turned on Ruby Batham, kicking and hitting her before someone finally did her the mercy of smashing her skull in with a rock. Police watched. Batham’s husband, Subhash, had held 23 local children hostage, threatening to execute them as an act of vengeance against those, he claimed, had framed him for murder. For the mass-circulation, Amar Ujala, the murder of his wife was her own fault: “How can we let them go”, it reported Ruby Batham as saying, with troubling itself with citing a source, “these kids are worth Rs 1 crore each”.
The murder of Ruby Batham isn’t the only savagery we haven’t chosen to dwell on this week gone by: There were the terrorist attacks by Hindu nationalists on New Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh protests; the brutal beatings administered to a woman schoolteacher by Trinamool Congress workers; the acid attack on a Hapur teenager unwise enough to complain to police that she had been raped.
India’s biggest national security threat isn’t in Kashmir or Chhattisgarh: It is the complete vanishing of the rule of law in giant swathes of the Republic’s territory. This year’s budget commitments for policing have taken one more brick out of the walls protecting us from anarchy.
In 2020-2021, Rs 784.53 crore has been budgeted for the modernisation of state police and India’s national criminal database, down from Rs 939.79 crore spent in 2019-2020. Though cash might be short, depressing reading isn’t: The Intelligence Bureau will spend just Rs 83.50 crore of its Rs 2575.25 on capital acquisitions, this at a time new challenges across the region are mounting. capital expenditure on police training is just Rs 21.69 crore, and forensic science Rs 15.41 crore.
Compare that with the Rs 145.20 crore budgeted for capital expenditure on the Special Protection Group, which guards the prime minister, or the Rs 222.63 the Delhi Police has got—and you get a good sense of what VIPs actually care for.
Law enforcement system is at breaking point
These funding cuts are coming at a time it’s clear the law enforcement system is at breaking point. The implosion of the Haryana Police along caste lines in 2016, searingly documented in Prakash Singh’s official investigation; the failure of intelligence services and police to contain violence after the arrest of Ram Rahim Singh; the near-collapse of the state across southern Kashmir in 2018: Together, these provide graphic illustration of what India’s future might be looking like.
The key to understanding why police forces are overstretched is the stark fact that there just aren’t enough personnel. The United Nations recommends that nation states maintain 250 police officers per 100,000 population. India has vowed, repeatedly, to move towards that target but has miserably failed.
In 2007, Indian police forces were sanctioned 1,334,344 personnel, 411,871 of those committed to everyday duties, and 1,746,215 as armed reserves to be used in emergencies. For a projected population of 1.140 billion, that meant 153 police officers for every 100,000 people. Today, Bureau of Police Research and Development statistics show, there are 192 officers sanctioned for every 100,000 of India’s 1.287 billion residents — but because of budget constraints, India actually has only 150.80 police officers per 100,000 population, below the sanctioned level even for 2007.
Uttar Pradesh should have 185 police officers per 100,000 citizens; it has 127. Telengana should have 218; it has 131. Bihar doesn’t even pretend to aspire to United Nations norms, yet its sanctioned strength of 121 per 100,000 population is far higher than its actual numbers, a pathetic 73 per 100,000.
Even worse, the police we have aren’t trained or equipped. In 2016-2017, the last year for which figures are available, just 44,083 police personnel across the country received any form of in-service training: 0.03 percent of the national police force. Little spending, the BPR&D records, actually went into improvising the capability of police forces: Combined state and central government spending on modernisation of facilities, the BPR&D records, stood at just Rs 7,356.18 crore, or less than 7 percent.
For all the talk of smart policing and modernisation, most state governments have been reluctant spend cash to fix these problems. In 2017-2018, according to BPR&D statistics, India’s states and union territories together spent
Rs 108,174.88 crore on police forces: up just 1.39 percent in nominal terms. In no states barring Tamil Nadu, Telengana and Delhi did spending on police constitute more than 2 percent of the state budget.
Even in relatively well-administered Maharashtra, scholars Renuka Sane and Neha Sinha have found that “budgets, as they stand, barely allocate funds for operational expenses of running police stations, or maintenance costs for computer systems, arms and ammunition”. The cuts in central funding for state police forces will, obviously, accentuate the crisis.
Poor investigation, corruption and incompetence thus characterise the criminal justice landscape: Eroding the legitimacy of law-enforcement, and the law itself. Instead of building a modern criminal justice system, we’ve been reduced to lynching people on the streets. Like the crowds who gathered at football stadiums in Kabul to witness Taliban executions-by-stoning, we gawp at ball-by-ball commentary on the hangings of rapists; this simulacrum of justice is all that remains when hope has been lost for the real thing.
Lack of law and order
The United States, with a far smaller population than India, spends over $100 billion a year on policing, New York alone will spend $5.6 billion this year, with $107 million dedicated to training, and another $187 million to intelligence and counter-terrorism. China is estimated to have spent more on internal security than on defence this last decade. No genius needed to understand why: A society that can’t ensure law and order is one that is headed into the abyss.
Indians can’t complain they weren’t warned. In 1953, the first issue of the national Crime in India survey warned that “the old fear which the police used to inspire among criminals has dissipated”. The reasons were clear, even then: “India has the lowest number of policemen per 100,000 of the population”; in rural areas, the police “had ceased to exist as an effective force”. Lack of funding had meant “there had been no improvement in methods of investigation, or the application of science”.
“All these handicaps continue to exist,” the survey recorded the next year, in 1954. “We make the same suggestions we made the last year.”
First Published: IST