Rule of law, vibrant judicial system, public safety & security of the masses are the most conspicuous hallmarks of any modern-day civilized society. The history of world civilizations also verify that their socio-economic growth and intellectual development were a result of strong institution building, firm rule of law and a public friendly system of administration encompassing all spheres of human lives. Ordinary people need no less than security of life and property and a just political system to live without any fear. In the sub-continent, the British government introduced Police Act, 1861 to effectively control the colonial subjects. This system worked professionally for the British till 1947 and after the independence, the successor governments in Pakistan, simply failed to maintain better policing for providing security to the people. Unfortunately, their half-hearted reforms have further bungled the police system. Actually, the police system is ill-equipped, poorly trained, deeply politicized, and chronically corrupt which needed major surgery and complete overhauling; this is what the past regimes have failed to do.
The situation got even worse during the regime of General Pervez Musharraf when Punjab was run like a personal fiefdom. Due to the lack of political will and disorganized substitution of archaic Police Act of 1861 with the Police Order 2002, police system met steep deterioration which proved all the more fatal for the police force and the people were the ultimate victims as 4000 percent (or 40 times) increase was recorded during the last five years for complaints against Police for non-registration of FIRs.
Prior to the devolution plan, the Executive Magistracy used to handle this important aspect of public grievances at its own level. However, after the devolution from 2002 to 2007, as a result of the abolishment of Executive Magistracy, there was no legal mechanism available to the indigent strata to lodge their grievances. Therefore, complaints to District & Sessions Judges for non-registration of FIRs increased from 1,003 in 2002 to 47,386 in 2007. Whereas prior to devolution, the public could get redressal of their grievances conveniently; now they have to go through an expensive and lengthy process of hiring lawyers to appear before the Sessions Court. Similarly, the number of complaints for harassment was also increased to 2000 percent, (from 608 to 13224) during this five years period.
A kaleidoscopic study of the police performance after the devolution plan shows that it has hampered the police system in many ways; high-handedness and brutality of Punjab Police is increased ever since the devolution was introduced, which can be understood by a 300 percent increase in the number of Habeas Corpus cases filed from 2002 to 2007 alone. In 2002, there were only 1970 complaints filed against the police in Lahore High Court, which later increased to 5678 in 2007. Because of the abolishment of Executive Magistracy, people have lost an important layer of protection, which earlier used to protect them from police’s high handedness. Despite the occurrence of such a high level of illegal kidnappings by police, the delinquent police officers responsible for such acts of barbarianism went scot free due to lacunae in judicial system.
During the years 2000, 2001 and 2002, there was a decrease in heinous crime of 45 percent to 55 percent per year. However, after the devolution, this trend diametrically reversed. From 2005 to 2008, there has been an increase in the percentage of heinous crimes; initially of 25 percent (in 2005) and then surging at the alarming level of 70 percent per year (in 2008). This is despite the fact that during this same period (2005-2008), the strength of police officers increased at an annual rate of over 60 percent in 2005, and between 80-90 percent in the subsequent years. Furthermore, despite an increase in the perks and salary of thousands of rupees per month, police failed to protect the lives and property of ordinary citizens. What is more disappointing is that Public Safety Commissions, constituted under the devolution plan to protect the people from police high-handedness, also failed to work properly. Of the 1944 complaints sent to the Public Safety Commissions in 2004, only 193 were actually implemented by the police. Data shows that the Commissions entertained only 1262 of these 1944 complaints, asked police for report on 740 of them, and finally issued only 393 of them to the police for implementation. Of these, only 193 were actually implemented by police. In this way, the premier public body envisioned in the devolution plan for protecting the public from police brutalities and excesses was completely succumbed to what is now the world’s second largest police force. Due to abolition of the Executive Magistracy, which successively served as a pillar for public support against police excesses for more than a century, citizens now don’t have any cheap mechanism for quick redressal of grievances.
While failing to justify their failures in providing protection to the public, police have launched an unjustified propaganda drive to confuse public by mixing the forthcoming Police Act, 2010 with Magistracy’s revival. In reality, the Police Act has nothing to do with the Magistracy, because the Magistracy can only be dealt with the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). While on the other hand, Police Act only deals with day to day operational and administrative matters pertaining to functioning of Police. As the circumstances have proved that Punjab Police does not desire better transparency of their work in the eyes of public, it is therefore, trying to confuse everyone by raising the non-existent issue of Magistracy at this stage.
It is all the more astonishing that Punjab Police, which is now the second largest police force in size with well over 1,60,000 personnel to its strength, is trying to bloat itself further by attempting to create new offices in each district for SP Criminal Investigation. Whereas, past data shows that increase in size of police hierarchy has only resulted in an increase in crime; creation of these new posts would likely to be a futile exercise, merely burdening the tax payers with salaries of new police officers. Developed countries of the world have much smaller and efficient police forces which have better rates of crime prevention and conviction; therefore instead of asking for more posts, police department should try to improve its performance.
What the government and the society does not know that Punjab Police is merely a collection of stick carrying employees, which does not have any proper training or skills on modern aspects of policing. It is believed that 20 percent of them are misused as personal servants in the houses of senior police officers, or drivers for vehicles of families of police officers. A large number of police motor bikes bought for patrolling purposes are under the use of these employees for their personal errands. In some cases, a single DIG Police has over 15 employees at his disposal. This shows what it means to be a big boss in the corrupt police system.
The ill-repute of Punjab police is not limited to Pakistan alone. Two different Transparency International Surveys have termed Punjab Police to be the most corrupt organization in the country in 2002 and 2006. However, what is most threatening is the fact that in 2002, 27.6 percent of the respondents reported police to be corrupt, whereas in 2006 this number was increased to 67 percent. Hence, there has been almost a three times increase in police corruption during next four years. It should be noted that the Revenue Department (with Patwaris) was ranked much lower, and did not show significant increase in levels from 2002 to 2006.
Critics are blaming advent of devolution and termination of Executive Magistracy to be the primary causes behind this increase in police corruption. Prior to devolution, Executive Magistracy used to be a layer which public could use for grievances against high handedness of police. Earlier, two different NRB surveys in 2002 and 2004 also shown that less than half of the households in Punjab (48 percent) had reported registration of FIRs by police as a result of their lodging a complaint, whereas only 29 percent were satisfied with the way police treated them during their contact with police. Only 13 percent of them reported to have received justice from police.
This is indeed a serious state of affairs for the civil society activists, media men and the government as well, as no society could flourish without a vibrant and trustworthy police force, judicious judicial system and a government which is meant for the public welfare, only then we can get rid of police excesses. The Punjab government should also put in an internal check and balance system in the police department so that the gubernatorial officials could be timely upbraided and police could also be saved from inefficiency and corruption. It is high time that we move to the list of civilized nations by improving our archaic police system. Internal check mechanism will also assist the honest, efficient and professionally competent officers/officials to excel in their career. Media should also play its role in guiding the government so that we could have a police force that emerges as first line of defence against injustices, crime and terrorism. Only then, it will justify its existence.