Monthly Archives: March 2014

Ethics in Public Service-Police Service Included

AIbEiAIAAABDCNHI9JDL38HrYSILdmNhcmRfcGhvdG8qKGRmZjM3Y2IyNGFiNzVkYTE5Y2QxOWM5YjVjZDg5YzZhODkzY2FhYmYwAeb12e_1DLWxFoaTlOyiwl7aGBdwThe recent news reports on the Preliminary Enquiry initiated by CBI against the previous Chairman and Member of SEBI, on the issue of grant of permission in 2008 to the currency exchange, MCX-SX, provoked me into thinking about the environment of ethics in our governance structures. The news report (http://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/ex-bureaucrats-criticises-cbi-s-action-support-abraham-bhave-114031400567_1.html) mentions the view of the former Coal secretary, Shri EAS Sarma, that there is need for a grading system to capture the reputation of public servants on their integrity and take the same into account before enquiries are started against them. The entire concern is on the harm that is caused to reputations built carefully over a lifetime, even in the initiation of enquiries by investigating agencies.

Clearly, investigative agencies have tremendous ethical responsibilities. Though there is general public perception of a serious lack of high moral standards in most public service delivery systems of government, it has been my experience that every government office and institution has some people who are motivated only by ethics and the spirit of public service. Investigative processes which do not take into account these nuances ab initio, lower the credibility and trust that the investigative agencies should experience on their work.

I have been writing on this blog, on the need for autonomy for investigative agencies, since clearly, investigation should be an unbiased and fair process. The need for trust of the people in the fairness and ethical conduct of business by investigative agencies, is critical to having a sense of justice in society. If fairness and ethics are so critical for investigative agencies, then what systems should be in place to institutionalize these attributes?

The prompt response from policy makers is to create another organization (like say the Lokpal) to intrusively supervise the work of investigative agencies. But will this additional layer guarantee fairness and ethics? Or does it have the potential to become another arm of government to control investigative agencies? Another response is to tighten administrative checks by alienating powers of transfers of personnel from the police hierarchy, to outside the police. This solution cuts two ways: 1) It can weaken good intentioned police leadership and consequently weakens the performance of the organization, and 2) It keeps the investigative agencies beholden to the political and bureaucratic layer at the expense of fairness and impartiality in conduct of its business. These solutions are therefore person-dependent solutions (I don’t like such solutions!) and will give variable results. If the political-bureaucratic layer is well intentioned, things will run well, but the system will crack in the event of  an alternative scenario.

So the question to answer is: can institutions of public service delivery be made accountable enough to reform from within? Can police as an organization reform from within and offer itself to public, third party checks on the use of its investigative powers?

For different police organizations, this check will have to be structured in different ways, taking into account the core concerns on ethical working in each such organization. Say for organizations like the CBI, which deal with anti-corruption and vigilance, the internal reform could lie in addressing the concern mentioned above about protecting the integrity reputations of government officials, as a first principle. The mechanism of taking into account the integrity scoring or grading before initiating enquiries, as suggested by Shri EAS Sarma, could be one such way. And the third party check could be devised through a periodic reporting mechanism addressing this very concern, to the Central Vigilance Commission, which could obtain public views on the same before submitting the same for scrutiny to the Supreme Court.

For ethical conduct in police stations, bringing in public  accountability mechanisms like crime victimization surveys, could be a way forward.

More thought obviously needs to go into designing the mechanisms for checks and balances for investigative agencies. These should go hand in hand with extensive capacity building through wide exposure to the police to a variety of training. It would be unsatisfactory to only add layers of intrusive supervision, since these can be ineffective for the end result sought. There is also an urgency to finding solutions on this issue, since it deals with scenarios that can destroy reputations of the few good people.

How Important is the Police Role in Curbing Crimes against Women

AIbEiAIAAABDCNHI9JDL38HrYSILdmNhcmRfcGhvdG8qKGRmZjM3Y2IyNGFiNzVkYTE5Y2QxOWM5YjVjZDg5YzZhODkzY2FhYmYwAeb12e_1DLWxFoaTlOyiwl7aGBdwThe National Family and Health Surveys have been compiling a mass of data on fertility, infant and child mortality, the practice of family planning, maternal and child health, reproductive health, nutrition, anaemia, utilization and quality of health and family planning services, in India, through representative household surveys since 1992. Some questions in these surveys, on health of women in the household, lead to descriptions of household violence against women. A study of a comparison of household violence against women,( http://www.ideasforindia.in/Article.aspx?article_id=105#sthash.VDcmCKoB.dpuf), from the National Family and Health Survey-3 and the corresponding crime reported in the relevant period’s annual compilation of the National Crime Records Bureau(NCRB), shows that there is a wide disparity in crime measured in household survey data and crime recorded in police stations. This study has discovered an under reporting of serious assaults to married women in their households, being in the range of 14-28% and the under reporting of less severe assaults to be in the range of 41-58%. It also says, ‘If the police records were the weathervane for gender equity, then West Bengal and Kerala would be considered some of the worst states to be a woman while Bihar, UP and Odisha would look like good places.’

These figures disturb me. The extent of under reporting in both-the severe as well as less severe physical assaults-on married women in their marital homes means two things: 1. That women victims are not reporting many of these crimes to police because their cultural socialization tells them to expect and tolerate abuse in their marital homes, and 2. That police stations officers are not trained to overcome their own cultural socialization bias of tolerance to such abuse, to sensitively handle these complaints and ensure enforcement of a law promulgated to punish a widely prevalent social evil.

What is the way forward on this problem? The solution starts with internalizing the fact that this is a social crime and not merely a crime of passion or crime for profit. The inhuman practices of dowry, preference for male children and following from that, the lower status of women in households all across India, result in street as well as household crimes against women. The current sole focus in public debates, on police reluctance in registering these offences and investigating them, could therefore be unsatisfactory as far as changing the social mindset on this social problem, goes. Since the police training has not made fundamental changes to the policeman’s thinking about this issue , from the way the Indian society at large thinks, the police actions are reluctant and even where actions are taken, they do not appear to have much effect on the size of the victimization numbers. A more comprehensive training in police training schools, on dealing with women complainants, will certainly influence positively, the attitude of policemen at their workplaces. But it can only be a partial and insufficient solution to the concerns on this issue.

What could be more effective is for women to act collaboratively against abuse. This could involve bringing women together as a support group, locally, to collaborate on raising a ‘heard’ voice against household violence. Such support groups can also raise awareness amongst women locally, for reporting the crime and getting police stations to enforce the law on such crimes, besides providing emotional support to the victimized women. Though there is reservation for women in local panchayats, there is still no local level organized ‘lobby’ for enforcing the equality for women enshrined in our laws, only individual voices, individual victims.

Simultaneously, the government could also look at this social crime from the angle of public health (as is evident from the above quoted study done on the NFHS surveys), besides the current view as being only a law enforcement problem.  It is a social practice that is affecting the physical and mental health of our nation’s next generation.

There is hope for a cultural change in the undercurrent of simmering national anger against acts of abuse and violence on our ‘mothers, sisters and daughters’.