The link between northbound social crime in India - especially against women - and the country’s below par policing standards, and its abysmal police-to-population ratio, has been the subject of heated debates of late.

Not without reason. As against the United Nations’ minimum norm of 220 cops per 100,000 residents for day-to-day law enforcement duties, India’s number ranks at a lowly 130. Increasing police footprint is thus a vital prerequisite to check crime. Unfortunately, India finds most of its sanctioned police force merely on paper, and the rest splintered between law and order duties, investigation and VIP security at the cost of ‘quality’ policing. For instance, Delhi Police - the world’s largest metropolitan police force with 83,762 personnel - deploys only around 30 percent of its staff for general policing.

To a large extent, Indian police’s preoccupation with securing VIPs is to be blamed for its cities being under policed. Many political spent forces have held tenaciously onto their security detail, long after the threat to them has disappeared. These include present and former governors, retired judges, authors, lawyers and even spiritual leaders. There is an urgent need to prune this list as many VIPs and VVIPs do not face any serious threat, but are given a ‘ceremonial’ cover. Excessive deployment for VIP security, and the overall shortage due to vacancies, has led to an adverse police population ratio in the country.

Those enjoying police cover at the taxpayers’ expense feel a sense of entitlement. Stories also abound of politicos going to great lengths - including arm twisting government officials - to prevent being stripped of their cover long after they have hung up their boots. According to Home Ministry’s figures, an incredible 47,557 cops cater to 14,842 VIPs across India, even as gruesome crimes continue to bedevil the lives of ordinary people.

It is nobody’s case that VIP security be totally ripped off in a country vulnerable to terrorist and Naxalite violence. But police deployment should be judicious and not exceed the need or sanctioned strength. As countrywide protests over lack of safety for women have demonstrated, there is a crying need to re-evaluate the type of ‘VIPs’ who enjoy such heavy security at state expense.

The Supreme Court recently suggested an objective review of VIP security. India urgently needs to redefine who a ‘very important person’ is. When the power of framing security guidelines, and their implementation are vested with top politicians and bureaucrats, who themselves are beneficiaries of high level security, it is futile to expect them to be exemplars of propriety.

One of the better suggestions to improve policing standards is to raise special cadres for VIP security de-linked from the main police force. This template is already a success in the Western world, where it is the secret service that protects national leaders, rather than an ostentatious panoply of cops.

The government must also urgently implement the long overdue police reforms and ensure the independence of the police force. This can be achieved through better pay, protection against political intimidation, arbitrary transfers and insecurity of tenure.  Police recruitment also needs a fresh evaluation. Many men in uniform, who are unable to get recruited on merit, grease palms to muscle their way into the system compromising its overall effectiveness.

Glaring vacancies in police jobs also need to be filled. All Indian states and union territories collectively reported police vacancies of nearly 4.20 lakh against the sanctioned strength of over 20.80 lakh policemen across the country in 2012. This gap takes a heavy toll on policing on ground zero.  Good policing is the bedrock of a safe and secure society. Indeed, it must be given the importance it deserves.

The writer is a New Delhi-based journalist, who writes on politics, lifestyle trends, environment and gender issues for leading newspapers and publications, including The Guardian and Asia Times. This article has been reproduced from Khaleej Times.