An efficient and well-oiled criminal justice system helps a country politically, socially and economically. The economic cost of the failed criminal justice system is reflected in the reluctance of foreign companies to set up manufacturing and commercial ventures in India for want of quick settlement of criminal, labour and civil disputes. Thus, the GDP of China that was almost equal to India in 1987 is about five times more in 2021.
The social implications can be gauged from the report, “Crime in India 2019”, published by the National Crime Records Bureau.
As per the report, 25,023 cases of assault on women, 11,966 rape cases and 4,197 “dowry deaths” have been pending trial for five to 10 years. Investigation and prosecution need improvement and all criminal trials must be completed within a year. Technology-driven service delivery mechanisms can help achieve this.
Along with prevention and detection of crime and maintenance of law and order, police stations in India undertake numerous daily tasks — for example, providing verifications and no objection certificates of different kinds to citizens. They supply crucial documents too. The Bureau of Police Research & Development (BPR&D) had identified 45 such tasks in 2017.
In criminal and non-cognisable cases, police stations provide copies of FIRs, complaints and final reports. For commercial establishments, they issue no-objection certificates for opening/renewal of eating houses, restaurants, bars and cinema halls. Further, they issue permission to hold processions/fairs/exhibitions/circus and use amplified sound systems.
Police stations also verify domestic help/employees of central and state governments/public sector undertakings/students going abroad for studies. Since a licence is mandatory for possessing a weapon, a no-objection certificate by the concerned police station is essential for the purchase, sale, transfer of a weapon/ammunition/explosives. In a few cases, the special branches are involved — for example, passport verification and issues related to foreigners.
Ease of business means police stations dispose of these requests in a transparent and time-bound manner. But these NOCs and verifications are not easy to come by. The procedures are non-transparent and timelines are often blurred. They encourage corrupt practices as can be seen from the ongoing saga in Maharashtra, where a former home minister and top police officers, including former Mumbai’s former commissioner, are facing allegations of extortion.
Even as police reforms are pursued by the Supreme Court, a definite attempt can be made to ensure time-bound delivery of the above-mentioned services to citizens.
The India Justice Report (IJR) 2020 supported by Tata Trusts has studied the e-portals of various state police organisations that provide citizen-centric services such as requests for issue/renewal of various NOCs, verification requests for servants, employment, passport, senior citizen registrations and enabling citizens to download required forms.
While Punjab, Himachal, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh seem to be doing well, the report mentions that “despite the push for digitisation, no state offered the complete bouquet of services… Users face numerous problems of accessibility to these services. Several portals did not work despite repeated attempts over three months. These include portals of Mizoram, Rajasthan, Lakshadweep, Uttarakhand, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Tripura… Others, like Himachal Pradesh’s, did not work until the third attempt: Even after signing up, it stated that the request could not be processed.”
Clearly, technology for service delivery to citizens has not been prioritised by the police leadership. The IJR 2020 audit confirms that states need to invest more resources to upgrade their e-portals for providing the 45 identified basic services to the citizens.
This is a task that police leadership can concentrate on without any political interference. The Bureau of Police Research had worked out the timeline for each service and the hierarchy/levels involved. The recommendations have been shared with the state police organisations.
Along with ease of use, the language of e-portals needs attention too. Citizens seeking clearances may not be very educated. IPJ 2020 found that “most sites were available in English or Hindi, but not necessarily in the state language”. It concludes that, “due to these gaps, the citizen portals in their existing form are falling short of their objective of enabling easy access to select policing services”.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) earmarked about Rs 20,000 crore for the modernisation of police (2017-2020), for schemes such as crime and criminal tracing networks and system (CCTNS), police wireless and e-prisons. States can take up this crucial service delivery mechanism.
We have a large number of young technology enthusiastic police officers who can lead cost-effective initiatives. In Pune Police Commissionerate, we had an additional commissioner, an engineer from BITS Pilani, initiating and monitoring “technology for citizens” effectively.
E-governance is an effective way to help the overburdened beat and police station officers as well as harried citizens. User-friendly citizens portals for obtaining passports and driving licences have been game-changers. Police made a good start at the beginning of the millennia but probably lost interest midway.
There are two reasons for it. One, police leaders do not understand the difficulties that citizens face at the police station level and two, citizens fail to hold us accountable for non-use of technology. This has to change.
Life for Indians would be transformed if government departments, including the police, provide maximum information and services through their portals respecting the defined processes and timelines.