Monday, June 21, 2010

'Act now to prevent Kerala becoming a police state'

On 11 May 2010, a Select Committee of the Kerala Legislative Assembly published a questionnaire seeking opinions and advice from the general public, jurists and human rights organizations concerning the Kerala Police Bill, 2010. The purpose of the exercise is to receive comments and recommendations concerning the Bill so that the aspirations of the people of Kerala are reflected in the law governing the state police, when the Kerala Legislative Assembly finally enacts the law.

Nervazhi and the Asian Legal Resource Centre jointly released on Monday a study on the Bill titled "Kerala, a police state in the making - Act Now!".

Nervazhi is a registered human rights organization, based in Thrissur district, Kerala. The ALRC is a registered regional human rights organization based in Hong Kong. The ALRC enjoys a General Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations and have extensive network of partners in India and other Asian countries.

Nervazhi has considerable experience concerning human rights issues, in particular those related to the functioning of law enforcement agencies in Kerala. Justice institutions, in particular the police, prosecution and the judiciary have been ALRC's area of focus since its inception in 1986 and thus its field of expertise. The ALRC has extensive knowledge about the functioning of police in various Asian jurisdictions, in particular India. The ALRC has assisted the drafting of similar laws in South Asian countries, the latest, a law criminalizing torture and custodial death which is currently under the consideration of the Bangladesh parliament.

For preparing the comments and suggesting recommendations to the Bill, Nervazhi and ALRC have consulted experts in the field, including senior police officers serving and retired in India, jurists, academics, journalists and above all the people of Kerala. For this very reason, the comments and recommendations will reflect a combination of expertise emerging from this knowledge base.

We have no claims whatsoever that the following pages contain a comprehensive analysis of the Bill, but we are certain that the Bill, as it stands now has the potential to turn Kerala into a police state. The comments and recommendation are thus made with an intention to prevent this. We have analyzed the Bill bearing in mind various human rights cases that we have come across from Kerala in particular and India in general. We have studied the jurisprudence developed internationally concerning law enforcement agencies and their operational standards and the case law developed by the courts in India, the Supreme Court of India in particular, concerning the rights of the citizens while in custody and the duty of the state as well as that of the law enforcement agencies in dealing with the citizens while engaged in law enforcement duties.

We have held consultations with the general public about the Bill. The use of simple language in the document, understandable to the common person, is thus not an intentional use of any editorial style, but is the result of the effort taken to write down the opinions the ordinary Indian living in Kerala provided us concerning the Bill. It reflects the collective wisdom of the ordinary people, rooted in their experience of dealing with the police as a state institution.

The recommendations also reflect this collective voice of the people of Kerala and their hope that their police can be corrected, provided the law governing the police is also right. Almost everyone whom we have consulted has informed us in various forms that the state of affairs of the Kerala police is deplorable at the moment. They want the new law to be a tool to bring change to this unacceptable status quo.

The ALRC, along with the comments and recommendations is also submitting a model law for the consideration of the Legislature to criminalize torture and extrajudicial executions.

We hope that the recommendations and comments will be duly considered and appropriate changes incorporated in the Bill. We are certain that by incorporating the recommendations in the Bill, the Kerala State Police will be provided with a statutory framework to discharge their duties, thereby contributing to develop India, a country of great people into a mature democracy.

A copy of the comments and recommendations with the copy of the original Bill is sent either by email, fax or post to Honourable Governor of Kerala, Honourable Speaker and all other members of the Kerala Legislative Assembly, Judges of the Supreme Court and the Kerala High Court, the National and State Human Rights Commissions, the Director General of Police - Kerala and all print and electronic media in Kerala.

The comments and recommendations with the Draft Bill can be downloaded from here.


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