While there has been much attention on the Maharashtra Police (Second Amendment) Bill, 2014, banning dance bars across the state, it has remained unnoticed that the State Assembly also passed the Maharashtra Police (Amendment) Bill 2014 last week, with virtually no debate and discussion on the floor of the house. This Bill is to replace an ill-conceived ordinance, which made amendments to the Maharashtra Police Act, 1951, to supposedly set the state on the path of police reform. It is meant to incorporate in the 1951 Act Directives on Police Reform given by the Supreme Court in 2006. It is, in fact, in complete non-compliance with the court's directives.
The Bill is currently with the Governor for his assent. If it passed, it will become law. This development is not only dangerous for the people of Maharashtra but also speaks volumes about the intent of the state to usher in accountable and professional police in the state, despite its tall claims of improving police standards.
Policing is an important subject. Citizens are affected by the kind of policing they receive and legislation is the key. The State Police Act needs to be amended to reflect the needs and values of modern policing, in consultation with the people. But this current process has been so flawed and closed, and the content of the Bill is so unsound, that it will do more damage than good.
The Bill fails to follow the scheme as laid down by the Apex Court. Processes of checks and balances and independent accountability bodies explicitly drawn up by the court's directives have been diluted or removed altogether in the Bill. All of this could have been attended to, through an open and transparent pre-legislative process. But the Bill was never made accessible.
The issue of better policing should be considered a very public affair. Bad laws come out of bad processes. Avoiding public consultation is not a good practice. Laws, especially police laws that are so closely intermingled with the everyday life of ordinary people must be the product of wide discussions done in public and inclusive of every segment. Until people are engaged, policing cannot be termed democratic. It is of the utmost urgency that people of Maharashtra urge the Governor to revert the Maharashtra Police (Amendment) Bill back to the assembly for reconsideration.
For better policing, Police Reforms Watch recently conducted discussions at Mahim's Our Lady of Victories Church and at BSE, Dalal Street.