Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Reluctant reform

http://www.frontline.in/stories/20100507270902600.htm

V.VENKATESAN
in New Delhi

The Comptroller and Auditor General’s report reveals serious deficiencies in the modernisation of State police forces.

PTI

Policemen to be posted in areas with high naxalite presence being given special training with AK-47 rifles at the Bariatu firing range in Ranchi.

THE government refers to the Maoist threat also as left-wing extremism (LWE). Implicit in this is an admission that as the socio-economic grievances of the people are at the root of this phenomenon, the state’s response to the challenge cannot be entirely non-ideological.

While this explains why the government emphasises the need to take development closer to the people in areas where LWE thrives, there is one more reason why the term is preferred even if LWE is considered merely a law and order problem. As the distinctiveness of LWE is that it occurs in inaccessible and unfamiliar terrain, the Centre has assumed that it is the State police forces, by virtue of their proximity to the areas under their influence, that are in a better position to fight LWE. As the recent massacre of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) jawans at Dantewada has shown, such incidents are inevitable if the State police forces choose to play a secondary role to the Central paramilitary forces (CPF) although the Centre and the States agree that the latter can only assist the former.

“The Compendium of Performance Audit Reviews on Modernisation of Police Force”, brought out by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) (available at http://www.cag.gov.in/html/Compendium_MPF/MPF.pdf), reveals what has gone wrong with the State police forces in the past decade. The vulnerability of these forces in dealing with the challenge of LWE, apart from the alarming frequency in acts of terrorism, made the Centre take the need to upgrade their response strategy seriously. The Modernisation of Police Force (MPF) scheme was launched in 1969, in the aftermath of the Naxalbari uprising in 1967.

In February 2001, the Centre circulated a modified scheme captioned “Modernisation of Police Force” to all the States and suggested a graded reform path to match the individual policing needs, as guided by their risk exposure levels. Five years after the launch of the scheme, the CAG considered it an opportune time to evaluate its working and selectively commissioned performance audit reviews covering 11 general category States and five special category States (including Nagaland, on manpower management).

The methodology of the review is an internationally recognised auditing technique employed to assess independently any government scheme in order to measure its economy, efficiency and effectiveness.

The results of the audit were presented to the respective State legislatures. Except Kerala and Manipur, none of the States discussed these reports in their Public Accounts Committees. The reports on Assam, Tripura and Uttarakhand, covering a five-year period ending March 2008, are under submission to their legislatures and, therefore, not yet ready to be placed in the public domain.

The Centre has been implementing the scheme with an annual budgetary allocation of Rs.1,000 crore for 10 years, with the assistance of the States. The Ministry of Home Affairs pledges a predetermined Central share to fund the State governments’ police upgradation and modernisation programme through the following components.

*Enhancing mobility: Purchase of new vehicles (including bullet-proof vehicles and mine-proof vehicles) and replacement of old vehicles.

*Weaponry: To meet the gap between authorised scale and existing holding of arms.

*Improvement in the communication system.

*Training: Including expansion of buildings and enhancement of other infrastructure facilities for training.

As a major funding agency and guardian of internal security, the Ministry of Home Affairs is the principal stakeholder in the police reform programme. In practice, however, the CAG’s audit found that there was a perceptible gap in the standards and expectations between the Centre and the States.

The functioning of the apex body – the State-Level Empowered Committee (SLEC) – was a case in point. There was hardly any policy direction emanating from the business transacted by the SLECs. The SLECs had by and large reduced themselves to discharging the role of purchase committees, the audit report observed.

The CAG found the following constraints in the modernisation of the police forces: lack of coordination between the revenue and police departments in making land available for police housing and infrastructure creation; suboptimal levels of manpower position; lack of training in handling sophisticated technology; and inadequate preparation to absorb new technology. Although the CAG revealed no success story in any of the States studied, it concluded that almost all the States had benefited from the Ministry’s enhanced funding programme.

The funding pattern of the scheme defined cost-sharing between the Centre and the States in the ratio of 50:50 up to 2002-03. This arrangement was not found sustainable as most State governments could not contribute their matching share. This made the Centre revise the funding arrangement in October 2003. The States were then divided into three categories, A, B1 and B2, with a Central share of 100 per cent, 75 per cent and 60 per cent respectively.

In September 2005, these States were regrouped into two categories: Category A (special category) – comprising the seven north-eastern States and Jammu and Kashmir, and category B (general category) with 19 general category States and Sikkim. Central support to category A States is 100 per cent as against 75 per cent to category B States. The CAG has considered the following category A States in its latest cumulative report: Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland. Among the category B States, it examined Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

The scheme requires every State to draw up a long-term perspective plan (PP) and align it with the annual spending programme through its annual action plan (AAP). While the PP was to be proposed by every State in 2000-01, the AAP has to be submitted to the Ministry by May 15 every year. The AAPs are to be first cleared by the SLECs before they are forwarded to the Home Ministry. The CAG noted that there was considerable delay in approving the AAPs owing to their delayed submission to the Ministry as well as the time taken by the Ministry to clear the same. As a result, there was little time left to use the approved outlay in the same year. As the PPs were tentative, deviations from them were rampant.

According to the CAG audit, the experience of the 16 States in the utilisation of funds was not very promising as there were significant shortfalls in relative cost-sharing and wide gaps in actual expenditure against the plan outlays. The States were caught in a vicious circle of delay in the finalisation of the AAPs, causing delayed release of funds and ultimately failure in utilising them. Some States had adopted a short-cut method of locking up the funds in Personal Deposit accounts to show them as expenditure, which did not benefit the State concerned or the programme, the CAG pointed out.

There could not have been a better mechanism to monitor the fund flow or to measure the effectiveness of the scheme without the AAPs. Far from having it in place, the States have adopted an ad hoc approach and defaulted in timely submission of the plans to the Ministry, which has in turn affected the release of funds.

Owing to the delay in approving the AAPs, the use of funds during the same year was very low. The total expenditure as a percentage of the total approved outlay for the MPF scheme ranged between 28 and 86 in category B States, while in category A, it was between 28 and 76. Funds advanced to construction agencies were shown as utilised. The States’ share was not at all released by two States, the report pointed out.

Some States have even gone to the extent of showing their non-Plan expenditure on salaries and so on as States’ share of the scheme. Such an approach may have helped the release of the Centre’s share in the short-run, but in effect it reduced the total outlay and hindered their modernisation programme, the CAG observed.

The scheme places great emphasis on the mobility of police forces as it recognises the principle that increased mobility in field policing reduces the response time and enhances efficiency and effectiveness. A major share of the expenditure was thus allocated for the procurement of vehicles, primarily for field policing.

However, the practice, as revealed in the audit, presented a different situation. A large number of vehicles were seen to have replaced old ones, while some vehicles were diverted for VIP escorts. A few vehicles remained in parking lots for want of drivers. As a result, the net addition to mobility was little. The police’s response time was too long in some States, while in others there was no record to show any improvement.

The scale of weapons to be procured by each State is guided by the norms laid down by the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD). Weapons procurement data on each State reviewed in the audit revealed that procurement of sophisticated weapons, such as AK-47s, 7.62 mm SLRs (self-loading rifles) and 5.56 mm INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) rifles, was far below the States’ requirements.

As a result, the CAG found that police stations continued to depend on outdated and unserviceable weapons. Instances of issue of expired ammunition also figured in the report. In some cases, the weapons were supplied to the bodyguards of Superintendents of Police in violation of the Ministry’s guidelines.

Retention of sophisticated weapons in the armoury of the police reserve has been another regular feature. Delay in training was often cited as the main reason for the stockpiling. In one State (Rajasthan), all-women police stations were not supplied any weapons at all. There was also a dearth of weapons as acquisition of weapons from ordnance factories was delayed.

In most cases, residential and non-residential buildings meant for the families of police personnel were far short of the provision in the BPRD norms, owing to delays in construction. Thus, the security of the police force was not ensured and the level of satisfaction of housing was very low.

COMMUNICATION NETWORK

AKHILESH KUMAR

A CRPF patrol inside a forest in Dantewada district in Chhattisgarh. The Modernisation of Police Force scheme places great emphasis on increased mobility in field policing.

A dependable police telecommunication network, or POLNET, is vital for effective law and order maintenance. POLNET is a satellite-based integrated network providing direct communication links from the national capital to the State capital and the district headquarters on voice, data, fax and computer, and extending the connectivity up to the police stations on voice. The Centre directly procured and delivered the equipment to the States but its installation and the selection of sites for that was left to the States. A large part of the equipment in some cases was found inoperable either owing to hardware-software mismatch or owing to a wrong selection of sites. In a number of cases, even the earmarked communication equipment supplied to the district police headquarters lay idle in the stores.

Some States such as Andhra Pradesh felt that the POLNET equipment supplied to them was inferior to their own versions (for example, the AP State wide area network) that had demonstrated better connectivity and robustness. The network for use in crime investigation and transmission of crime-related data was not successfully set up in some States. In some others, it was functional only up to the district level. The network was handled by untrained personnel, and there was a shortage of some communication equipment.

The CAG found specific instances of mismatch between the goals of modernisation and practice in some States.

Andhra Pradesh, which is considered a model policing State by many experts because of the success of the Greyhounds (the special anti-terrorist squad of the State) in tackling LWE, comes out as a rogue State in the CAG audit. Owing to delays in the approval of the AAPs, implementation of the scheme was delayed in the State and only 13 to 82 per cent of the funds were used in the same year. The State government spent Rs.31.37 crore on works not covered under the AAP and not approved by the SLEC.

In the period under audit (2002-07), the State government was deprived of Central assistance to the tune of Rs.136.49 crore owing to underutilisation of funds. Funds worth Rs.79.55 crore were parked in banks by the Police Housing Corporation, and the interest earned (Rs.2.56 crore) on the amount was appropriated for other purposes. The corporation submitted the utilisation certificates even for the unspent amounts.

Bihar spent only Rs.251 crore between 2001 and 2006 against the total approved plan of Rs.435 crore. The slow pace of spending deprived the State of the Central share of Rs.121 crore.

In Jharkhand (2000-04), the MPF funds advanced to construction agencies (Rs.61.76 crore) and retained in civil deposit (Rs.8.65 crore) were reported to the Centre as utilised.

Madhya Pradesh was deprived of Central assistance amounting to Rs.77.93 crore owing to slow progress in the implementation of the scheme between 2000 and 2006. An inflated expenditure of Rs.159.42 crore helped the construction agency pocket the interest earned on the amount. The agency did not refund the unspent balance to the State, the CAG audit reveals.

Orissa, too, came in for criticism for treating an advance of Rs.38.28 crore in 2000-04 to the construction agency as expenditure and for inflating the utilisation certificates furnished to the Centre for this purpose. Significant underutilisation of funds under the major components, namely, arms (70 per cent), computer (100 per cent), traffic control equipment (85 per cent) and upgrading the fingerprint bureau (100 per cent), was also reported in the State.

CAG recommendations

Following its performance audit of the 16 States, the CAG has made four main recommendations:

The SLECs should reorient themselves from playing the role of purchase committees and actively get involved in designing PPs and AAPs, besides taking up the responsibility to monitor the scheme;

The Ministry of Home Affairs should establish a system to monitor the timely and appropriate use of funds sanctioned and released;

All States must ensure immediate installation after procurement of the police telecommunication network and the forensic science laboratory/fingerprint bureau equipment. Weapons procured should be distributed immediately among the targeted police stations; and

All vacant posts in States must be filled up in a time-bound manner so that the benefit of the scheme is derived optimally.

These recommendations do not appear to be formidable, if only the Centre and the States display the requisite will. But the bottom line, as revealed by the CAG report, is that the battle against LWE could, in practice, be marred by wastage of money, corruption, inefficiency, and lack of communication between the Centre and the States.


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