The police baton-charging and teargasing of university teachers during a recent protest against pay cuts, delay in payment of pensions, and the roughing up of an MPA along with his police guards on a checkpoint came under heavy barrage of criticism from the parliamentarians, members of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Assembly and media.
The action of the police that attracted sharp condemnation was due to the reason that no cause for action had been provided by the teachers. The only allegation against the teachers was the blockage of the traffic on Khyber Road, Peshawar, outside the provincial assembly, where the Peshawar High Court, other courts, Civil Secretariat, a luxury hotel and the Flag Staff House are located. On the other hand, while in the provincial government, the PTI had been organising sit-ins to forcefully stop the passage of containers to Afghanistan. Consequently, the whole traffic used to be suspended, while the party claimed peaceful protest to be its fundamental right. Thus, now others in response can also state that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
Although the police treated the protesting teachers as a punching bag, it is imperative to find out who directed the police to initiate such an action.
The reaction to the alleged maltreatment meted out to the MPA, allegedly travelling with police bodyguards in civvies, echoed in the provincial assembly. In a bashing of the police, most of the assembly members stated that such acts were a result of the police having been bestowed with too many powers under the Police Act, 2017. The Treasury benches also called for clipping the wings of the police by bringing amendments to the said Act.
In heated discussions, usually sweeping statements are being made without actually reading the actual law or making a comparative analysis of the laws governing an institution.
The police is an important tool of the criminal administration justice system. In this context, the mainstay of laws are the Criminal Procedure Code 1898, Police Act, 2017 (previously Police Order, 2002, and Police Act, 1861), and Qanoon-e-Shahadat.
Comparative study of the police laws shows that even under the Police Act, 1861, the superintendence of the police throughout a general police-district was vested in the state government and was also exercised by the state government. The administration of the police throughout a general police-district was vested in the inspector general of police, and in such deputy inspectors-general and assistant inspectors general as approved from time to time. The Police Order, 2002, and Police Act, 2017, vested the same powers, more or less borrowing the same language in their provisions.
While under the Police Act, 1861, and Police Order, 2002, posting and transfers of officers of the rank of superintendent and above had been done by the government in consultation with the inspector general. As a contrast to that the new Police Act, 2017, empowered the inspector general to make postings and transfers up to the ranks of additional inspector general. This was termed a major step towards making the K-P Police apolitical, accountable and independent to perform the law and order maintenance duties without any considerable political interference. Apart from this there is no other fundamental change except the introduction of Dispute Resolution Councils. The question is then: why such hullaballoo?
The reason cited in this matter is that the government is accountable for the law and order through the chief minister to the provincial assembly, and ultimately to the people. Therefore, he must have the authority in matters of postings and transfers. This argument is reasonably good and there is no harm if the government exercises this authority. But, other arguments on giving enormous powers to the police are absurd. Mostly the act deals with internal administration of the police. Public Safety Commissions and Complaint Authorities were also part of the Police Order, 2002, and have also been inserted in the Police Act, 2017. However, those bodies more often remained inoperative even in the past and even now.
The fact of the matter is that the police derive its power such as the power to arrest, search, and preventive action from the Criminal Procedure Code, 1880, and other such laws in vogue. The issue is not of legal powers but of misuse of powers in our governance and omission to use of legal authority justly and fairly. This requires an environment entirely based on the concept of the rule of law, with each state functionary operating according to the assigned role, within the sphere of law.
The police are under constant internal and external scrutiny of the judiciary, provincial assembly, public safety commissions, and complaint authority. The need is to make those effective by ensuring checks and balances.