Law and Order : State Subject vs National Issue

Since law and order is a state subject in Schedule 7 of the constitution, state governments have the responsibility and power to maintain it in their state. However, it has been witnessed numerous times in the past that state governments have been unable to prevent or even control communal or caste-based violence to stop innocent people from being displaced or killed. This brings out an important point of argument whether in cases where a state is not able to reign in the violence, does the issue cease to be a State problem and turns into a national catastrophe? Does it warrant the need to give central government the power to use the extra resources at its command and stop the bloodshed?

To arrive at a logical conclusion to this question, it is necessary to understand the reasons behind the failure of state government machinery in such cases. A study of various incidents of communal violence shows that the reason is primarily lack of willingness on part of police officers (on strict orders given by their political masters, or otherwise) to control the violence rather than a shortage of police officers. For instance, in the recent Muzaffarnagar riots, it has been alleged that the state police officials were slow in reacting to the initial sparks of targeted violence against the minority religious group. Even in the 2002 Gujarat riots, various investigation reports have blamed the state police officers for not stopping the violence against Muslims because of political pressure.

However, this does not mean that only if state police is willing to act promptly will it achieve the goal of stopping the bloodshed. There can be cases when the state govt law and order resources are not enough to stop the violence. In such cases, it is necessary to let the central government help with its paramilitary forces and if need be, even armed forces. This should not be construed as violating the federal spirit of the constitution. The important point is to make the judgement at the right time for calling the central forces to control the killing.

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