Mumbai: ‘Is complaints authority willing to take action against cops?’

04 December,2023 05:02 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Apoorva Agashe

Advocate sees rise in plaints as positive sign but asks if ex-cops will act against men in khaki

A police officer carries hand sanitiser in his holster amid the coronavirus pandemic, on May 29, 2020. File pic

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A recent report by Praja Foundation, an NGO, indicates a staggering 97 per cent surge in grievance complaints against police personnel compared to previous years. The findings reveal that the State Police Complaints Authority (SPCA) received a total of 869 grievances in 2022. The SPCA is mandated to address serious violations of the law or abuse of lawful authority by the police. It has the power to conduct inquiries, receive evidence, hold hearings and issue final recommendations to the police department.

Three out of the five positions in the State Police Complaints Authority are currently vacant. Representation Pic/Atul Kamble

P K Jain, former SPCA member and ex-additional director general, said, "The State Police Complaints Authority was set up in 2015 and was fully functional in 2017. We had a chairman and members at that time. However, the authority is working with half of its strength now." "When I was on the authority, 65 per cent of the complaints we used to receive were about non-registration of FIRs and about 25 per cent for non-investigation or faulty investigation. About four to five per cent were about misbehaviour," Jain said. According to the NGO's report, a mere 20 per cent of complaints underwent inquiry in 2022, shedding light on potential gaps in the redressal process.

‘Redressal unit needed'

Godfrey Pimenta, trustee of Watchdog Foundation, advocates for the establishment of a redressal unit within police stations. Emphasising the need for a change in the police force's attitude, he suggested the implementation of both physical and online redressal mechanisms. "The police are hesitant to register FIRs in petty issues. They take note of serious offences very diligently. A redressal unit is needed at police stations and online, too. There has to be a change in the attitude of the police force," Pimenta said.

In 2022, 53 per cent of complaints were transferred to the Divisional Police Complaints Authority after scrutiny, as per the report. Police officers in the city acknowledge the increased awareness among the public about their rights, contributing to the rise in complaints. An officer said that the state has established a forum for raising concerns, leading to greater public awareness. Another officer stated that the police department is unique in having a well-established redressal method. This assertion suggests that the reported increase in complaints may be a result of the existence of a formalised complaint system within the police department.

Abha Singh, an advocate and former bureaucrat, sees the increase in complaints as a positive sign, suggesting heightened awareness among the public regarding their rights. "It is a positive thing that the grievances against the police personnel have seen a significant rise. That means people are more aware of their rights and wouldn't tolerate wrongdoings from the police force. But the bigger question is whether the state complaints authority is willing to take any action against the police. Retired police officers are on the panel. Will they take any action against their own force?" Singh said.

Closure of complaints

The report further highlights the closure of complaints, revealing a substantial increase from 31 per cent in 2020 to 78 per cent in 2022. Data shows that three out of the five positions in the SPCA are currently vacant, with one position unfilled since 2017 and another since 2020. Dolphy D'Souza of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative said, "There is always a concern of citizen: police trust. The personnel at police stations should be trained in empathy to treat every complainant as a customer. There is a certain reluctance among citizens, particularly women, to access the police for redressal of their grievances. More monitoring by senior police officials is needed."

SPCA Speak

SPCA member Umakant Mitkar said, "The SPCA had been set up by the government to suggest recommendations for grievances against police personnel. Currently, it is headed by HC Justice Shrihari Devare and I am one of its members. I request the citizens to approach us when there is any kind of injustice." "We take cognisance of all complaints such as death in judicial custody and extreme violence by the police," he added.

Year SPCA was set up

Year SPCA became fully functional

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