Efforts to improve the performance of the Kerala police and give the force a people-friendly image lies in a shambles following a series of ugly incidents which left six dead.Four of them died in a firing.
The state police is proud of the fact that two national studies have rated it as the best in the country.
However, local studies have shown that public perception of the state police is far from flattering.
A survey conducted by the Kerala chapter of Transparency International some years ago revealed more than 80 per cent of the people viewed it as one of the most corrupt government departments.
In 2002, AK Antony, as chief minister in the United Democratic Front (UDF) government, tried to free the police from political interference.
He barred legislators from going to police stations to seek release of arrested persons.
Later, complaints arose that faceless intermediaries had filled the void left by the legislators.
A commission, headed by former Supreme Court judge KT Thomas, which evaluated the performance of the police, said that there was some improvement in the police performance during 2002 and 2003 but subsequently there was a disturbing tendency towards deterioration.
The KT Thomas Commission, which submitted its report in 2005, recommended changes in recruitment procedures and training methods and the evolution of a new work culture.
The Left Democratic Front (LDF), which came to power in 2006, did not pursue the commission's recommendations.
It set up a committee headed by Jacob Punnoose officials to draw up measures to enlist people's co-operation in the working of the police force and give it a people-friendly image.
In March last year, the government launched a community policing programme on the basis of its recommendations.
The Supreme Court of India, acting on a public interest petition, issued a set of seven directives to the central and state governments in 2006 with a view to ensuring functional autonomy for the police and raising its accountability.
Following this, the LDF government amended the Police Act. However, it did not fully comply with the apex court's directives.
Later, it came up with a new, comprehensive draft law. It is yet to be enacted. Its provisions, too, fall short of the court's directives. Apparently the government is unwilling to grant full functional autonomy to the police.
A series of ugly incidents which occurred in the Cheriyathura area, on the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram, has brought to light the inadequacies of the police reform efforts.
The police handling of the matter was along the lines established during the colonial period. The organisational leadership did everything possible to protect the errant officers.
It all began on Saturday, May 16, with merchants rebuffing a goon's attempt to extort money from them. The goon came back with gang members and indulged in arson.
Violence spread quickly as the police response was slow. The trouble, which could well have been contained by prompting nabbing the goon, got out of hand and developed into group clashes. On Sunday, the police brought the situation under control by resorting to firing.
There are cynics who believe the police remained inactive as someone in authority decided that a law and order incident would help turn public attention away from the ruling front's humiliating defeat in the Lok Sabha elections, results of which had come in earlier in the day.
A more plausible reason for the police inaction may be its reluctance to act against goons, who have political connections.
Two years ago, the government had enacted a law which empowers the police to detain goons.
According to official estimates, a few thousand goons are active but only about 75 persons have been put behind the bars.
The Director-General of Police, in a report to the government, justified the police action in opening fire without magisterial sanction, claiming there would have been more casualties if it had not done so.
The report glosses over the police's failure to prevent the situation from deteriorating to the point where firing became inevitable.
Alarmed by the angry public response to the developments, the government ordered a judicial inquiry into the firing and announced a compensation of Rs 1 million each to the families of the dead. This is the highest compensation paid on such cases so far.
The political parties have divided on expected lines. While UDF leaders have accused the police of failure to act in time, LDF leaders have praised the police's handling of the situation.