Police reforms have been an important topic of discussion in the country, in an attempt to prevent crime as well as prevent police brutality in violation of the fundamental human rights of citizens.
The issue of police reforms has sat at centre-stage after the repeal of the Police Order, 2002 by the provinces. A petition was filed in the Sindh High Court, asking for the legality of the Police Order, 2002 and declaring the Sindh Police Law of 2011 unconstitutional.
The Sindh High Court held that the police has been exclusively a provincial subject from 1935 and that the Sindh Assembly had rightly repealed the Police Order, 2002. The petitioners preferred to appeal, which was dismissed by the Supreme Court; so the decision of the high court is now in the field.
Although there are no two opinions that the police must be free from any political control with sufficient internal autonomy, police officialdom is pursuing the reforms agenda on the basis of a slogan of de-politicization for two purposes: more powers for the police bureaucracy and centralization of the provincial subject of police.
Depoliticizing the police means that legislators or political parties should not interfere in the administrative affairs of the police. However, depoliticizing is also confused with the executive power of the provinces, which is totally misleading.
The police consider the 2002 Police Order an ideal police law for reform purposes. However, under that very order, the police elite placed controls on the police in the shape of public safety commissions totally ineffective. What it wanted to retain was the power of transfer and posting of its officers. As a result of this, it became more politicized; the arbitrary use of the police for the May 12 mayhem in 2007 is a case in point.
The Sindh Police Act, 2019 enacted recently is modeled on the Police Order, 2002 but the police do not seem satisfied with it. For the police, depoliticization means that they should be free from the executive control of the provincial government. For this, the police play both the federal and the provincial governments against each other in order to promote group interests at the cost of people’s rights.
An effort has been made by the police since inception of Pakistan to centralize this purely provincial subject in order to avoid the executive control exercised by the provinces. Section 10 of the Independence Act, 1947 abolished all central services.
In 1949, the police cadre rules were framed to create a central Police Service of Pakistan (PSP) without any act of the constituent assembly. Those rules had no legal basis. General Zia again tried to legalize the PSP through the police cadre rules of 1985. Police bigwigs quote the saving clause of Article 241 of the constitution as protection of their service but the article provides them no such protection as the police service never existed legally through an act of parliament. Even the central legislature could not have passed for want of legislative competence, the police being a provincial subject.
Strangely enough, for their reform agenda, the police prefer the laws of Zia, Musharraf – or resort to judicial forums when convenient.
What the police elite want is that their service should be central so that the provincial government may not take any disciplinary action against their officers for misconduct. Second, the police elite want that the transfer and postings of their officers be handled by the police themselves. If the provincial executive would neither have a say in the transfer and posting nor would it be able to suspend or dismiss a police officer for misconduct why then would it retain the police as a provincial force?
Police officers want security of tenure for the positions of SP to IG which is a good idea for service delivery. However, in the same breath, they are opposed to security of tenure for SHOs. They transfer poor SHOs every month – though legally speaking only an SHO has legal powers under the law and the functions of all other officers are supervisory.
The institution of the police station which is the linchpin of the whole system has been made redundant by the police bureaucracy. It has neither a budget of its own nor independence for the required service delivery – though the Sindh government gives the police more than Rs110 billion annual budget, the third biggest outlay after education and health. Even if an amount of Rs20 million is allocated for each police station, it would cost only Rs10 billion for 500 police stations of Sindh to make them model service centers.
In the Sindh High Court, the petitioners quoted extensively from a 2006 Parkash Singh case of the Indian Supreme Court, which asked provinces to enact A Model Police Act by their consent. Even in India, under the Model Act enacted by some states, the director general of police who heads the police in a province is appointed by state governments without any interference from the central government and provincial governments exercise complete executive authority over the police.
The so-called reform agenda is not aimed at depoliticizing police, rather making the police totally unaccountable and a state within state.
The writer is a barrister-at-law and former advocate general of Sindh.
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