Odisha Police Bill offends Supreme Court directives, sends message there is no scope for dissent on police administration

odisha police billIn a letter to the Odisha Governor, two senior activists, Biswapriya Kanungo, a human rights advocate, and Pramodini Pradhan, convener, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Odisha, have argued that the Odisha Police Bill, 2015 is “undemocratic” and was passed in the Odisha Legislative Assembly in contravention of the Supreme Court’s directives. Excerpts:

The Odisha Legislative Assembly during its Monsoon Session passed the Odisha Police Bill 2015 on August 17, 2015. Having respect for the Constitution of India, democracy and rule of ;aw, we fail to appreciate the said bill on the following grounds:

The Bill was passed on the floor of the Assembly in absence of the legistators of opposition political parties including the Leader of Opposition. Strangely, the Bill was moved for discussion just after the Legislators of opposition parties boycotted the Assembly proceedings, alleging the business of the House was being transacted ‘undemocratically and unconstitutionally’. 

The Bill was drafted after longstanding demands from the people and on the directions passed by the Supreme Court of India in Prakash Singh case (2006). But, it is strange that the Government of Odisha introduced a police bill in the Assembly only in 2014, which lapsed on the dissolution of the last Assembly. Yet another police bill was introduced in the Assembly this year, without keeping contents of the bill in public domain for public debate and discussion. It is also pertinent to mention that as citizens we have a fundamental right to information and needless to say, it is now a statutoty right. Further, as human beings we have inalienable rights to life, liberty and dignity. We believe that given the state of affairs an effective, efficient and impartial police service would help to ensure it.

The Apex Court in its judgement directed very categorically and clearly that the police administration should be made independent of the unwarranted interference of the Government. It also gave clear guidelines to draft a police bill replacing the prevailing police Act of 1861. It directed the Governments to follow either of the three prescribed models: National Human Rights Commission or the Reberio Committee or the Soli Sorabji Committee. But it is our concern that the recently passed police bill has ignored many important directives of the Apex Court which are at the core of police reforms. The Court recommended for constitution of a State Security Commission in which the Leader of Opposition has to be a member.

But in the new Bill the Leader of the Opposition is not taken as a member of the State Security Commission. It not only offends the directives of the Supreme Court, but also gives a strong message that there is no scope for dissent other than the views of the government in the affairs of the police administration in the state. So, the fundamental principle to keep the police administration free from the unwarranted control of the government has no place in the proposed legislation.

The bill provides for a State Level Complaint Authority in which the government has every power to nominate any person as the head of the said body, whereas the direction of the Apex Court is:

“There shall be a Police Complaints Authority at the district level to look into complaints against police officers of and up to the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police. Similarly, there should be another Police Complaints Authority at the State level to look into complaints against officers of the rank of Superintendent of Police and above. The district level Authority may be headed by a retired District Judge while the State level Authority may be headed by a retired Judge of the High Court/Supreme Court. The head of the State level Complaints Authority shall be chosen by the State Government out of a panel of names proposed by the Chief Justice; the head of the district level Complaints Authority may also be chosen out of a panel of names proposed by the Chief Justice or a Judge of the High Court nominated by him.”

We are extremely disturbed to find a provision in the Police Bill 2015 under clause number 65, which gives the members of police force immunity from any prosecution except in a case being filed by an authorised officer or with the previous sanction of an officer authorised by the government.

The provisions of the State Complaint Authority and the above one, prima facie, gives a clear picture of the objective of the Bill that the members of the police force shall not be accountable for their omissions and commissions, which is an essential ingredient of democratic body polity. We have before us the glaring examples of police excesses and brutalities in the incidents such as Sorono police firing (1999), Maikanch Police firing (2000), Kalinganagar police firing (2006), Narayanpatna police firing (2009) and the recent ones in Namtara, Kendrapada, Kandhamal and Nuapada. So we are not able to appreciate the Police Bill 2015, which is no way better than the Police Act 1861, enacted to serve the interest of the British rule in India.

We are afraid that the provisions of the appointment of Special Police Officers (SPOs) would be very dangerous in the hands of the government as was Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh. It may be recalled that the Apex Court had declared the appointment of SPOs as unconstitutional in the Nandini Sundar case.

The general power of superintendence of district magistrates in the affairs of law and order at the district level has been excluded from the police Bill in question. On the other hand, the DG of the police has been made as the Head of the State Armed Police. We apprehend that this would lead to increasing militarisation of the police force, centralisation of power and authority without accountability.

In this small petition, we have raised some objections as examples only. There are such other provisions in the Police Bill 2015 which go against the basic objective of the police reforms. This would no doubt strengthen the public perception that the police serve as a ‘force’ of the strong and the powerful, in adverse to the interests of the common people. The main objective behind the honourable Supreme Court’s Directive to enact a new police bill, by replacing the colonial Police Act of 1861, is to meet the democratic aspirations of the people that the police serve as the servants of the common people, not as their masters.

We, therefore, request you to consider to withhold your assent under the first Proviso to Article-200 of the Constitution, and send the Odisha Police Bill 2015 to the Odisha Assembly for its reconsideration and oblige.

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