Civil society triggers police reforms. Can it trigger judicial reforms too?
It is undoubtedly a major triumph for Indian civil society—using rights and tools that the Constitution makes available to ordinary Indian citizens, Prakash Singh and Common Cause India have “demolished in one stroke the colonial police structure which was hanging like a millstone around our necks for the last 145 years and more”. The power of public interest litigation (PIL) has once again been demonstrated. Singh, a retired BSF chief, outlines what the Supreme Court’s decision implies.
The question, however, is whether this Court should further wait for Governments to take suitable steps for police reforms. The answer has to be in the negative.
Having regard to (i) the gravity of the problem; (ii) the urgent need for preservation and strengthening of Rule of Law; (iii) pendency of even this petition for last over ten years; (iv) the fact that various Commissions and Committees have made recommendations on similar lines for introducing reforms in the police set-up in the country; and (v) total uncertainty as to when police reforms would be introduced, we think that there cannot be any further wait, and the stage has come for issue of appropriate directions for immediate compliance so as to be operative till such time a new model Police Act is prepared by the Central Government and/or the State Governments pass the requisite legislations. [Prakash Singh & Others vs Union of India & Others/Supreme Court of India]
More than simply redressing grievances or ordering the Executive to implement police reforms, the Supreme Court actually proposes setting up institutions and processes to free the police from partisan political interference. Such an action in itself may be insufficient to reform India’s police forces. However, it has forced open an issue that politicians are only too keen to bury. It will now be difficult for the political class to sidestep the issue.
So the Judiciary has stepped in to fill a breach created by the Executive. But there’s another problem that requires urgent attention—who will now propose institutions and processes to clear the immense judicial backlog? The judgement on this PIL, for example, came 10 years after its filing. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?