The spotlight is on the pathetic working and living conditions of the constables of Delhi Police, thanks to an eight-year old lawsuit. The case was filed by Head Constable Babu Lal Mitharwal, in 2015, challenging the provisions of Section 22 of the Police Act, 1861, and Section 24 of the Delhi Police Act, 1978. In fact, in 2015, there was even a Delhi Police order that policemen should not leave the station even at night.
Mitharwal claimed that these statutory provisions appeared to state that police officers “shall be assumed to be on duty for 24 hours”, and using this as a shield, Delhi Police was expecting its constables to be on duty for more than 36 hours at a stretch.
This is not the first time that the plight of the constables is being brought to light. However, despite several attempts in the past, no tangible action has been taken to improve their working conditions. Police reforms also tend to focus more on the higher ranks of officers than on the constables.
Now that 30 hearings have taken place over the past eight years in Mitharwal’s case, the High Court has finally ordered the Delhi Police Commissioner to ensure that a specialised committee is formed, if need be, to look into Mitharwal’s suggestions to improve the working conditions of constables.
Mitharwal rightly suggests that unless there is an emergency situation, policemen should be on duty for not more than eight hours a day and should also be given a day off every week. He also suggests that the Delhi Police should be directed to issue an office order with clear guidelines regarding fixing duty as well as rest hours for policemen.
It is pertinent to mention here that in 2007, the fifth report of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission, had stated that given the unreasonably long working hours, challenging work conditions, monotonous and mechanical nature of work, absence of proper welfare measures and inadequate housing, the morale of the constables cannot be expected to be high enough. Policemen who are constantly under work pressure and demotivated cannot discharge their duties well. In 2018, the Uttarakhand High Court had issued an order that the policemen in the State will not work for more than eight hours at a stretch. It clarified that the provision of a police officer being available for 24 hours actually implied that a police officer should be available and on duty at any hour of the day, and not that a police officer should work for 24 hours at a stretch.
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