Modern policing: Why encouraging NGOs holds the key to success
By all counts, in last about seven decades, democracy has depended in India. This means that now, larger number of people, irrespective of their income and social status and the place of residence are aware of their democratic rights. This fortunate development has significant implications for the way, the government of the day has to conduct itself.
When democracy deepens, people increasingly want their government, which they elect, to provide the services in accordance to their wishes. If this does not happen, gradually they lose patience. Dissension grows and even the mightiest of the leader fall. It therefore is rather axiomatic that a smart government would make all-out efforts to align its functioning to the interest and wishes of the people. Since provision of security is one of the most important functions of any Government, with the strengthening of the democratic forces in a country, people would increasingly demand what can be broadly described as ‘citizen centric policing’.
Many would argue that all this is nothing new and has got nothing to do with deepening of the democracy. After all, once, India has chosen a democratic form of Government, it is to function as per the ‘will of the people’ and no further consultation with people is required. The second line of argument would be that provision of security is an ‘experts’ job’ and thereforelittle can be gained by ascertaining the wishes of the people which may be ill informed or guided by their personal biases or greed. Proponents of this view would argue that for modernising police, all that one should do is to provide it resources including modern gadgets. The gist of both these arguments is same: Government knows what to do and for better implementation of its known agenda, capacity of the police has to be improved.
There are many reasons as to why the arguments, set forth above are plainly specious or at best an over-simplification of the functioning of the modern democracy. Since these reasons also would indicate the central role played by a Non-Governmental organisation in aiding the democratically elected government to function efficiently, it is worthwhile to examine them in some detail.
The first problem that one encounters is with the classical doctrine that in a democracy, since the government is elected one, it would function as per the ‘will of the people’. Joseph Schumpeter, in his celebrated work “Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy” clearly established the limitation of the popular notion of democracy that it is government of the people, by the people and for the people. While a full accountof the reasoning employed by Schumpeter is beyond the scope of this paper, some of the salient points indeed may be noted: he argued that people are driven by varied motives and to assume that there exists a public will, (which presumes a degree of consensus) is unrealistic. Besides, in many cases, people don’t have a view, unless there is an occasion or a platform and in general, on many matters, because of limited knowledge, general public is in fact in no position to hold a socially desirable view. When they elect a government, even in a democracy, it is not the manifesto of the party, but charisma of leader which plays an important part in their decision and hence a public vote is in fact not an endorsement of what is offered in a party manifesto (it is a common knowledge that manifesto of all parties are almost similar), but a vote for its charismatic leadership. Hence, Schumpeter concluded that the actual role, the common people play in a democracy is by exercising their vote to elect a Government which they feel has the best probability of looking after their interest. Indeed, since such occasion for such electing of Government would come five years or so, a smart government would like to be seen following the wishes of the people. It is not an ordinary task though.
Seen from this point of view, a healthy democracy would therefore require a robust mechanism at different levels of Governments and in its different department that can ascertain two things: a)What do people want? And b) What is good for the people? Since in a dynamic society, things remain in constant flux, such exercise are required to be carried out regularly and at micro level too. The role of a good government would then be to formulate a suitable goal on the basis of these two sets of information and implement the same. For instance, when State of Tripura was suffering from virulent armed militancy, people in a village wanted establishment of a police camp and where accommodations were not readily available, even providing a few rooms in a nearby school was socially desirable. However, as this problem is controlled, the ‘will’ of the people has changed. They want their school and if the camp is withdrawn or taken somewhat away from the village, they won’t mind, if they are convinced that the problem would not return.
Frequent ascertaining of wishes of the people is therefore an important tool for smart governance and indeed a large number of reforms- including strengthening of Panchayats, municipal bodies, seeking views/feedback of the people on social media or on website and improving the communication between people and governments, stress on community policing etc. - are directed towards it. In the same vein, one can readily make out as to why - NGOs and Civil Societies, which are ideally structured for providing a platform to people to formulate their view and articulate it- would gain importance. Smart policing therefore would mean viewing these organisations as important assets in ascertaining what people want. Unfortunately, there are many, even in the senior ranks of the police and other wings of the Government who, largely guided by their individual brilliance still subscribe to now fairly outdated view that Government knows the best and people have to like what the government provides. We have seen that unless will of people on specific matters are frequently ascertained, especially with the help of civil societies, the mere fact that governments are elected by popular vote is no guarantee that it knows all.
There are two more reasons which point to crucial role to be played by NGOs in a modern society. There are couched in terms of what is popularly called ‘principal- agent problem’ and ‘transaction cost analysis’ – standard tools of analysis in most of the social disciplines. Before we proceed further, a somewhat counter-intuitive position of the victim in criminal jurisprudence is to be noted:
While it is a common knowledge among legal fraternity that when a crime is committed, it is the State that suffers from the legal injury, this is seldom known to people because it defies common sense. Still, it is not the victim of crime- robbed of her money or raped or drenched in blood that goes to the court for seeking justice, it is the State, which on their behalf feels injured and goes to the court, through its prosecuting agency to punish the perpetrators. This position indeed is a relic from the time of monarchy, where a criminal who by committing a crime had disturbed the law and order arrangement made by the monarch and thus incurred his wrath. The monarch would punish him, albeit through a transparent process of collection of evidence and linking the same beyond doubt against the accused so that none could think of breaking the order established by him. In modern time, though the focus is shifting towards the victim as one would see increasing instances of payment of compensation to them by State or by the convict as per the order of the court, the fact remains that it is still the State that has the legal injury in criminal case and role of the victim is to set the wheel of justice in motion by lodging First Information Report (FIR) and/orby providing evidence.
Now perhaps we are in a position to use the tools of analysis, referred above: a principle agent problem is said to exist where in a matter of interest- legal, economic, political – he/she is represented by an agent. It is quite often the case that the interest of agent may be quite different from the principle and on this count, the principle may suffer. A corrupt or inefficient bureaucracy itself is seen as a major example of the principle agent problem as the agent (an inefficient bureaucrat in this case) is employed by a principle (the people, represented by the elected leader) to serve their interest. It is evident that as long as the interest of agent is different from the people, the resources placed in hand of this agent are liable to be misused.
Surprising it may be to note that the principle-agent problem is quite pervasive in modern societies than what it may seem. For instance, it may be in the interest of the society (principle) to know all the crimes that has occurred against a particular group: say tribal in State of Tripura. However, the said victim (agent here) may not be willing to lodge complain and seek redressal in its community or keep quiet. Similarly, State would like to know all the rape cases but the victim (agent here) are not willing to report for the reasons which may be quite valid. Or an inefficient police officer or a public prosecutor (agent) may not discharge their duties properly and therefore fail to protect the interest of principle (the people). An unscrupulous person ( agent) may give false evidence or suppress correct evidence as he/she may be guided by his/her own interest, thereby harming the interest of the principle. A head of the family (agent here) in order to save the so-called honour of family may not report domestic violence which in the long run get entrenched into society ( the principle) thereby harming it. Unfortunately, it is easy to give such examples from all walks of life including policing. If any entity reduces this problem, it would be an asset for the government. A little bit of reflection would indicate that NGOs are well suited to reduce the incidence of divergence of interest of agents and principles.
Before it is elaborated further, let us examine the framework of transaction cost analysis. A person is said to incur a cost while interacting with other social entity- individual or institution. Hence a victim of rape, while reporting the matter to police faces a set of transaction cost: the effort taken to approach a police personnel, pain undergone in recounting her horror, pain due to sense of shame and fear of insults etc. from unscrupulous section of her neighbourhood etc. Similarly, a brick kiln worker may face many transaction cost while reporting against inhuman treatment by his employer: fear of losing job, threat of violence against him or his family members, effort and time spent in reaching police station and wages forgone. A witness while deposing may face another set of transaction cost: effort and time in reaching the court, fear of violence from opposite party, efforts incurred in recalling an incident if it is too old etc. If the benefit of reporting the matter to police or deposing before the court are perceived to be less than the transaction cost, rationality would demand that such endeavours would not be taken up.
Hence if a witness turn hostile or remains absent or a crime is not reported, it is not the lack of cooperation by “irresponsible and non-cooperating citizenry” as many police officers at times would like to believe, but a mere instance of transactions cost being overwhelmingly larger than the perceived benefit.
A smart policing therefore would attempt that perceived benefit of reporting to police or deposing as prosecution witnesses etc. is increased and transaction costs of any interaction with police should be decreased. A woman helpline or provision of lodging FIR online or creating a woman helpdesk or welcoming environment at a police station are examples of measures to reduce transaction cost. A rise in conviction rate or timely action by police are examples of raising the perception of interaction with police as beneficial among members of the public. This paper asserts that like reducing principle agent problems, NGOs are also best placed to reduce transaction cost and governments would do well to encourage them.
To sum it therefore, the guiding principle for an efficient functioning of NGOs would be three fold:
a) It should provide platform and helps in eliciting the wishes of the people of a locality for their local problems and communicate the same to the concerned arm of the Government.
b) It should reduce principle agent problem, especially where the interface is between people and the government including the police administration.
c) It should reduce the perceived transaction cost andshould favourably influence the perception of people that interaction with Police is beneficial.
NGOs on the other hand would require a supporting environment from the Government. While there are indeed black sheep among this flock and they need to be weaned out, the stand of many government functionaries who see NGOs as an obstacle in their delivering government service is plainly bizarre for the reasons discussed above. Since a large number of people join NGOs with the motive of Service to the society, it follows that services offered by them can be ensured by the Government, often through non-monetary incentives or if at all some monetary support is to be provided, it would be a fraction of the cost that can be discovered through routine contractual process. Hence this paper would recommend that:
i) Government must take steps to accredit an NGO: Such certifications help in weeding out unscrupulous elements, out there to hoodwink people or follow their selfish agenda. It also raises the confidence of people as well as other arms of the Government in dealing with them and make them more effective. Such accreditation must clearly state the subject (policing, development, environment protection, health advocacy etc.) handled by such NGOs. An alternative approach is to declare a set of NGOs as lead NGOs or a panel of NGOs for any area/subject.
ii) Where it is a clear case that NGOs would require some monetary support, the same may be provided. All schemes of Government of India generally have a provision for engaging NGOs. The State may also follow suit.
iii) While it may seem somewhat controversial, Government may avoid funding NGOs constituted to further the interest of a political party. Political parties do play fairly constructive role in a democracy. However, NGOs on political line lose their ability to provide a neutral platform for formulation of the will of the people and ascertaining the same. Their role to increase the perception of benefit of approaching government on any matter also gets compromised in the eyes of supporters of parties other than the one represented by the concerned NGOs.
iv) There must be frequent interaction between police officials and NGOs. In such interaction, both side should avoid generalising any individual problem/instance to stereotype each other. Such accusations and counter accusations are communication breakers and ultimately hurt the interest of people.
V) Besides, representatives of NGOs should be invariably involved while deciding vision and monitorable targets for police. This would help in emphasising such aspects of police which people deem relevant and help the police administration to get correct feedback. For instance, a zealous police may choose to maximise its collection of fines for traffic violation whereas their ultimate aim may be to reduce number of accident. Involvement of NGOs may immediately provide them the feedback whether the strategy adopted is working as effectively as they think? This will also help the NGOs to fine tune their activities and act like messenger of the Government in areas where formal arms of the Government find it difficult to reach.
The guiding principle of the functioning of NGOs, referred above also indicate some of the major Dos and DON’Ts for NGOs. While not exhaustive at all, some of them are listed below:
i) As their primary role is to ascertain the wishes of the people on specific problem and communicate the same to the Government, they should avoid providing exclusively their own views and pass them on as the will of the people. If they do so, they are no different from the know-all government functionary who insists rather stupidly that people have to like what government provides. During interaction, based on their vast experience, they should indeed indicate to the people the consequence of a chosen course of actions but leave the final choice to them. This exercise would be best undertaken therefore if the representatives of police in such interactions are also present so that a balance view is taken.
ii) As their role is to highlight the principle agent problem and reduce the transaction cost, in each of the task that these NGOs take up, they should examine such problem by employing these framework and suggest ways to reduce the divergence between interest of principle and agent and reduce the cost of transaction with police. Hence, if a rape is taken place, NGOs can play an important role in bringing the victim to police and reducing the transaction cost of doing so ( for instance, strongly discouraging those who see the victim as an object for hurling insult/shame or create problem in their leading a normal life). Similarly, any burking of the crime by unscrupulous element in police, or inefficient handling of cases by prosecution during trial needs to be highlighted by them.
iii) Drawing out a victim from the horror of the crime perpetrated against her/him is a complex task that needs patience and competence. Sloganeering and photo ops seldom help. Similarly, providing comfort to a senior citizen, often bitter due to past experience, may not be easy and needs a sense of permanency in relationship. Much can be improved if a senior citizen has a number of a person working in an NGO and also that of a police officer to whom he can approach in case of problem and such persons do not get changed frequently.In earlier times, because of relative permanency of constable on a beat and the institution of chowkidars in villages, an elderly person, especially in villages knew the person, he/she was to approach. In modern times, in many cases, there is a degree of unfamiliarity between the police personnel and such citizens. A faceless police seldom inspire confidence. One can indeed take a clue from the English system of “bobbies,’ immortalised in Enid Blyton’s Mr. Plod in the Noddy series of stories for children. The affable police constable in a neighbourhood represents the gentle arm of law to the citizenry, young and old and earns a great deal of the trust of all concerned. Needless to add, this is one of the best methods of collection of intelligence and gauzing the mood of the people. Tripura being a small state, such examples can easily be followed in which both police and NGOs can play a role.
It can be concluded that NGOs are set to play a major role in modern democracies. It makes lot of sense if they are seen as an asset for ensuring smart governance instead of being treated as an obstacle to a police officer in delivering public service. They often raise their voice for the suppressed and unrepresented. As long as such voices are not blatantly biased and meant for seeking self-gratification, there is no reason they should not be heard, encouraged and respected.