Law and order
law and order refers to demands for a strict criminal justice system, especially in relation to violent and property crime, through stricter criminal penalties. These penalties may include longer terms of imprisonment, mandatory sentencing, three-strikes laws, and in some countries, capital punishment.
‘Police’ and ‘Public Order’ are State subjects under the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution of India and therefore, it is the primary duty of the State Governments to prevent, detect, register and investigate crime and prosecute the criminals. Central Government, however, supplements the efforts of the State Governments by providing them financial assistance for modernization of their Police Forces in terms of weaponry, communication, equipment, mobility, training and other infrastructure under the Scheme of Modernization of State Police Forces. Further, intelligence inputs are regularly shared by the Central Security and Intelligence Agencies with the State Law Enforcement Agencies to prevent crime and law and order related incidents.
The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), a nodal agency under the Ministry of Home Affairs, is engaged in the process of collecting, compiling and analysing the crime statistics with a view to help the States to evolve appropriate strategies for better prevention and control of crime. Further, the Bureau has established computerized systems at every District Crime Records Bureau (DCRB) and State Crime Records Bureau (SCRB), across the country, under a project viz., ‘Crime Criminal Information system (CCIS)’. This system maintains a National – level Database of Crimes, Criminals and Property connected / involved in crime with the objective of helping the law enforcement agencies in prevention and detection of crime and improving service delivery mechanisms. In order to effectively deal with the menace of organized crime, another system, viz., Organized Crime Information System (OCIS) is being put in place under the guidance of NCRB.
The history of Independent India is replete with violent protests, agitations and riots. At the forefront of dealing with these incidents are the police, who are the first responders, and security forces. Time and again, an important question comes to the forefront.
Under Article 246 of the constitution, matters pertaining to ‘public order’ and ‘police’ are under the direct jurisdiction of State governments. However, the constitution also empowers the Centre to provide necessary assistance when the state apparatus is overwhelmed. The Ministry of Home Affairs deploys units of the Central Armed Police Forces to aid the State police in imposing peace in the affected areas.
Among other variables, information about the nature of the incident, the reason why it is happening, and the grievances that drive it is critical. A clear assessment allows the police to formulate a coherent policy depending on the nature of the incident (whether it’s a political agitation, communal riots or even caste-related violence).
Efficient logistics, including the availability of necessary riot gear, controlling traffic routes to ensure the provision of timely medical emergency service, and the presence of adequate personnel at strategic points, among others require necessary due diligence. Finally, the police must establish a constant line of communication with the general public driven by a continuous stream of media briefings and press releases.
With the advent of social media, pernicious rumours are disseminated at a much quicker pace. Constant communication between the government, senior police officials and public will make it easier to develop trust and quell such rumours. In times of civil strife, the government often blocks internet services, which studies have shown aren’t useful.
There are provisions within the law that allow police to undertake preventive or punitive measures, including arrest, against those planning an unlawful assembly of people. Besides Section 141 to 190 of the Indian Penal Code, the State police also have the option of exercising Section 149 to 151 of the Code of Criminal Procedure in dealing with critical instigators of violent protest. Success in employing all these measures depend on the speed at which the State responds.
Handling public protests and dharnas
Police is required to respond to public protest and agitations in a highly professional manner. These emotionally charged situations often bring police in conflict with other agencies and public at large depending on the way police use force against protesters and handle them. Many times due to excessive use of force the situation gets aggravated unnecessarily and public opinion gets strongly charged against the police, which lead to widespread sympathy for the agitators while putting the police on the back foot.
The procedure regulating the use of force is outlined in the police manuals of different states. Some of the important points are as follows:
- The police must invariably secure the presence of a magistrate where it anticipates a breach of peace
- The decision to use force and the type of force to be used is to be taken by the magistrate
- Once the order for the use of force is given by the magistrate, the extent of force to be used will be determined by the senior-most police officer
- The extent of force used must be subject to the principle of minimum use of force
- Use of force should be progressive i.e firearms must be used as a last resort if tear smoke and lathi charge fail to disperse the crowd.
- Common tearsmoke which causes no bodily injury and allows recovery of affected persons should be used.
- Clear warning of the intention to carry out a lathi charge should be given through a bugle or whistle call in a language understood by the crowd. If available, a riot flag must be raised. If the police officer in-charge is satisfied it is not practical to give a warning, s/he may order a lathi charge without warning.
- If the crowd fails to disperse through the lathi charge, the magistrate or the competent officer 8 may order firing.
- The police are not on any account allowed to fire except on a command given by their officer.
- A warning shot in the air or firing over the heads of the crowd is not permitted.
- An armed force should maintain a safe distance from a dangerous crowd to prevent being overwhelmed, or increasing the chances of inflicting heavy casualties