Pay a little more attention the next time you buy an air ticket. Among the plethora of surcharges and taxes printed on your ticket, there is something called the PSF. It is a mere Rs 130 per passenger and is the amount you are paying for having Pakistan as our neighbour. Or for the poor policing in this country. How? Let me explain.
PSF is the Passenger Service Fare, and it is charged on every domestic air ticket in India. This levy---which collects around Rs 800 crore every year---funds the cost of providing security at various airports across the country. It is primarily used to pay the salaries of the Central Industrial Security Force personnel manning the airports and to provide baggage screening and other security equipment at the airports. Even this amount is insufficient as the annual expenditure on airport security is Rs 1,200 crore, the shortfall being met by the government and private airports.
Even if we don’t have any terror incidents in the country, this is how terrorism takes a toll on us. And 1,200 crore is just the direct expenditure on the airports. Imagine the productive time lost by various passengers because they have to report earlier to undergo airport security checks. The same thing is repeated at malls, cinemas, railway stations, bus stands and offices and in traffic snarls caused by security convoys of politicians. Even if we don’t notice it, the terrorists are striking every single day, every single minute by imposing heavy costs on us, both direct and indirect. Indubitably, merely preventing the next terror incident is not sufficient. The whole threat of terror needs to be eliminated. And the best way to do it is to dry the source of this threat.
The source of this threat of terror to India, as the world also acknowledges now, is Pakistan. Pakistan army and its intelligence agencies have created, fostered, funded, supported and directed terror groups who have struck repeatedly on Indian soil. Even though Pakistanis are today themselves paying the price of this nurturance of jehadi groups, the differentiation between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ jehadis continues to have its hold over their imagination. Bolstered by this public support, Pakistan army brazenly uses jehadi terror, under the protection of nuclear umbrella, as the foremost instrument of its national security strategy.
Eliminating this source of terror ipso facto means getting rid of Pakistani nuclear weapons, creating a new Pakistan army and changing the ideological anchors of the Pakistani society. Neither of this is possible in the short-term. India, on its own, doesn’t have the diplomatic, military and economic capacity to undertake this job and the developed world is not interested in devoting its energies to solve India’s problems. With the political geography of the subcontinent the way it is, the only way out for India is to grow at a rapid pace for a few decades to build its own capacities to undertake desired changes in Pakistan. Till then, Indians will have to live with Pakistan, and the jehadi terror it spawns.
If you cannot eliminate the source of terror, the next best option is to mitigate its flow to India. Newer institutional structures like the NCTC, Natgrid and NIA can help but even they are not sufficient. There is no spigot which works only for terrorism. Terrorism flows in the same pipes which are used by other criminal activities. If you can get a mobile SIM card activated on a false ID for your classmate, so can someone else, even terrorists. It is the whole ecosystem of casual criminal behavior. The supply chain which allows the neighbourhood shop to give you the latest pirated video game for Rs 200 can be easily used by the terrorists to move explosives and timers. Unless you close the tap of crime completely, you will have terrorism coming through the same pipeline. You can’t target terrorism in isolation. To succeed, the whole system of governance, particularly our criminal justice system, needs to be reformed.
There are two components of the criminal justice system that demand immediate reforms-- the judiciary and the police. Not only is our legal system dated, the judiciary itself suffers from a multiple shortfalls. At present there are more than three crore pending cases in various courts. Consequently, 67 percent of inmates across prisons are now undertrials. For the few cases that are decided, the rate of conviction remains abysmally low. The answer lies in speeding up litigation. The archaic methods of handling these cases can’t continue any longer. Only by incorporating modern technology, replacing paperwork and removing multiple bureaucratic barriers can the judiciary restore its credibility and supremacy.
Along with the judiciary, the police also needs urgent reforms. The police is understaffed, poorly trained and ill-equipped. The ratio of police to per lakh population is only 138, half of what the experts believe it should be. The shortfall has a direct bearing on the quality of policing---poor investigations, weak intelligence, low convictions, inadequate public security and a general sense of apathy towards citizens.
From personal experience, living in different cities across India, I can say that one either feels insecure around the police---because of its unscrupulous reputation---or avoids interaction with it altogether-- for the fear of moral policing. In India’s social evolution, between modernity and traditionalism, the police has been left far behind. The average cop still sees herself as the enforcer of morality and decency instead of a clinical precision in maintaining security, law and order. Indians deserve a professional police and that calls for police reforms.
The roadmap for police reforms, aiming for a professional police force, free of political control has already been laid out by the Supreme Court in 2006. Among other reforms, The Supreme Court asked for
- The setting up of State Security Commissions (to ensure that the state government does not exercise unwarranted pressure on the police);
- fixed tenures of a minimum of two years for the director-general of police, district superintendents of police and in charges of all the police stations;
- constituting a Police Establishment Board, under the director-general of police, to take care of transfer and postings of subordinate officials;
- setting up of an independent Police Complaints Authority at district and state level; and the separation of investigation from law and order.
Despite the apex court’s clear directions, all political parties and state governments---have been unanimous in avoiding their implementation. As many experts and think tanks have repeatedly stated police reforms are the starting point for any meaningful change in this country.
India cannot wish away the security threats it faces from all dimensions. To create a secure environment for all its citizens, India needs to strengthen the institutions of criminal justice system that are the guarantors of its liberal democracy. There are no quick fixes for doing so. Investing time and resources in restructuring them is the only answer. Till then, you and I will have to live with the PSF surcharge on our air tickets.
Sarah Farooqui is a Scholar at the Takshashila Instution, a researcher at the PAC, Bangalore and the assistant editor of Pragati- The Indian National Interest Review. She is on Twitter as @sarahfarooqui20.