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Topic: Law and Order Administration: Reforms in Police

India’s police are governed by archaic and colonial police laws harking back to 1861. Under the Indian Constitution, policing is a state power, which means that state governments have the responsibility to provide their communities with a police service (the national government has the responsibility for policing in union territories). Most state governments have a police law that adopts or reflects the basic ideas of the 1861 legislation.
There has been almost 30 years of debate on policing and reform in India, with commission after commission submitting reports and recommendations to governments. Each report has gone un implemented. At the end of 2006, there was a shift in the reform process, with a Supreme Court decision that required Indian governments to ensure police accountability and the release of a draft Model Police Act by a national Police Act Drafting Committee.

The Supreme Court Directives: In 1996, two former Directors General of Police asked the Supreme Court to direct central and state governments to address the most glaring gaps and bad practice in the functioning of the police.

On 22 September 2006, the Supreme Court of India delivered a historic judgment in Prakash Singh v. Union of India, instructing central and state governments to comply with a set of seven directives that laid down practical mechanisms to kick-start police reform. The Court’s directives sought to achieve functional autonomy for the police (through security of tenure, streamlined appointment and transfer processes, and the creation of a “buffer body’ between the police and the government) and enhanced police accountability (both for organisational performance and individual misconduct.)

The Supreme Court required all governments, at centre and state levels, to comply with the seven directives by 31 December 2006 and to file affidavits of compliance by the 3rd of January 2007. State government responses varied tremendously, ranging from complying in time with the directives through executive orders, to expressing strong objections to the directives and asking the Court to conduct a review.

Police Act Drafting Committee: In October 200.1, the central government set up a Police Act Drafting Committee (PADC) - commonly know as the Soli Sorabjee Committee - and asked it to draft a new model bill to guide state government’s adoption of new police laws. The PADC was required to take into account the changing roles, responsibilities and challenges of policing. The PADC submitted its Model Police Act to the Home Ministry on 30 October 2006.

Initiatives toward Reform: The fact that the Police Act of 1861 had failed to produce an efficient and a professional police force had been realized even by the British. A major effort to improve the system was made in 1902, the very beginning of the last century, when the Government appointed a Commission under the chairmanship of Sir A.H.L. Fraser to examine the system and suggest changes. The Commission made many recommendations but either failed to recognise or conveniently ignored the fact that most of the ills afflicting the organistion could be ascribed to the system established by the Police Act of 1861 and the philosophy of policing that was prescribed. The colonial system of policing established by the Act thus continued to remain in existence.

The advent of Independence changed the political system, but the police system remained more or less unaltered. However, the need for change and reform in the police had been realized widely. Throughout the 1960s, many state governments took initiatives to set up commissions to examine the problems of the police and suggest improvements. During the 1970s, the Government of India became active and set up the Committee on Police Training in 1971, and later the National Police Commission in 1977.

The failure of these initiatives to usher in reforms was mainly due to lack of action by the government in implementing the recommendations of the expert commissions and committees. This led to efforts from non-governmental actors in the 1990s to pressurize the government to consider and implement the recommendations of the expert bodies.

The Committee on Police Training: The Government of India constituted the Committee on Police Training on November 10, 1971. This body also came to be known as the Gore Committee on Police Training, as Professor M.S. Gore, a famous Indian social scientist and former Director of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences Bombay, was its chairman. In addition, Mr. M.M.L. Hooja, the former Director of the Intelligence Bureau, was Vice Chairman, along with nine members, including eminent police officers, academicians and bureaucrats. Its Member Secretary was Dr. A. Gupta, the first Director of the Bureau of Police Research and Development, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India.

The terms of reference of the Committee required it to suggest the objectives that should govern all arrangements for training of police officers; as well as the basic shortcomings in the arrangements, and finally measures to be taken to bring about the desired improvement.

The recommendations made by the Committee covered a broad range of issues involving the need to:

  • impart necessary knowledge and skills
  • create the right attitudes
  • generate effective decision making ability
  • stimulate critical and innovative thinking

The main thrust of the Committee’s recommendations was towards enlarging the content of police training from law and order and crime prevention to a greater sensitivity and understanding of human behaviour, and imbibing of communication skills and development of attitudes that promote service oriented activities.

The National Police Commission (NPC): The National Police Commission (NPC) was appointed by the Government of India in 1977 with wide terms of reference covering the police organisation, its role, functions, accountability, relations with the public, political interference in its work, misuse of powers, evaluation of its performance etc. This was the first Commission appointed at the national level after Independence. The Commission produced eight reports between 1979 and 1981, suggesting wide ranging reforms in the existing police set-up.

The following recommendations have been selected from different reports of the NPC:

1. First Report - Complaints against the Police: According to the NPC, any arrangement for inquiry into complaints against police should be acceptable both to police and public as fair and just. The Commission therefore suggested arrangements, which would include inquiries conducted by departmental authorities and those conducted by an independent authority outside the police. The Commission felt that a large number of complaints against police should be looked into and disposed off by the supervisory ranks in the police hierarchy. The Commission however recommended that a judicial inquiry should be made mandatory in the following categories of complaints against the police:

  • alleged rape of a woman in police custody;
  • death or grievous hurt caused while in police custody; and
  • death of two or more persons resulting from police firing in the dispersal of unlawful

2. Second Report- Role of Police: The basic role of the police is to function as a law enforcement agency and render impartial service to law, without any heed to wishes, indications or desires expressed by the government which either come in conflict with, or do not conform to the provisions contained in the constitution or laws. This should be spelt out in the Police Act. The police should have duly recognised their service-oriented role in providing relief to people in distress situations. They should be trained and equipped to perform the service oriented functions.

Political Interference in Police Work

In the existing set-up, the police function under the executive control of the state government. According to the Commission, the manner in which political control has been exercised over the police in this country has led to gross abuses, resulting in erosion of the rule of law and loss of police credibility as a professional organisation. The threat of transfer / suspension is the most potent weapon in the hands of the politician to bend the police down to his will. The Commission recommended that the superintendence of the state government over the police should be limited to ensure that police performance is in strict accordance with law. In the performance of its tasks, the police should be subject to overall guidance from the government which should lay down broad policies for adoption in different situations. There should however be no instructions in regard to actual operations in the field. In regard to investigation work, in any case, the police are beyond any intervention by the executive or politicians.

Statutory Tenure of Service

The chief of police should be assured of a fixed tenure of office. The tenure may be for four years or for a period extending up to retirement, whichever is earlier. The removal of the chief of police from his post before the expiry of his tenure should require the approval of the State Security Commission.

Selection of Chief of Police

The head of the police force should be selected from a panel of three IPS officers of that state cadre. The panel should be prepared by a committee headed by the Chairman of the Union Public Service Commission.

Transfer/Suspension Orders

Police officers should be effectively protected against whimsical and mala fide transfer/suspension orders. There should be a provision in the Police Act, specifying the authorities competent to issue such orders regarding different ranks. Any such orders passed by any authority other than those specified in the Act will be rendered null and void.

3. Third Report- Postings of Officers: The postings of officers in charge of police stations should be the exclusive responsibility of the district Superintendent of Police. The Chief of Police should be exclusively responsible for selecting and posting Superintendents of Police in charge of districts.

Guidelines for Avoidance of Vexatious Arrests

Presently the powers of arrest available to the police give ample scope for harassment and humiliation of persons, prompted by mala fide considerations. In actual practice, several persons who ought to be arrested are let free on account of political influence or other considerations, while harmless persons who need not be arrested at all are often arrested and even remanded to police custody on inadequate grounds.

Guidelines Regarding Use of Handcuffs

  • The threat of putting handcuffs on persons under arrest is another source of corruption and harassment.
  • The following guidelines must be observed:
  • No person shall be handcuffed who, by reason of age, sex or infirmity can be kept in custody without handcuffs.
  • No person arrested on a boilable offence shall be handcuffed, unless for some special reasons, it is believed that he is likely to escape.
  • In cases under judicial custody, court’s instructions should be obtained before handcuffing the accused.
  • Under trial prisoners and other accused persons should not be handcuffed and chained unless there is reasonable expectation that such persons will use violence or attempt to escape. The police escort must be sufficiently strong to prevent escape.
  • Whenever any accused is handcuffed, the fact and reasons should be stated in the Sentry Relief Book.
  • In no case should prisoners or accused persons, who are aged and bed-ridden in hospitals, or women or women or juvenile or civil prisoners, be handcuffed or fettered.

4. Fourth Report - Registration of FIR: Victims of crimes are sometimes turned away from a police station on the mere ground that the reported crime has occurred in the jurisdiction of some other police station and it is for the victim to go there and make his complaint. This works to the disadvantage of ignorant people and weaker sections in society. The NPC has recommended an important amendment to Section 154 Cr. P.C. which would make it incumbent on a police station to register an FIR whether or not the crime has taken place in its jurisdiction and then transfer the FIR to the concerned police station, if necessary.

Examination of Witnesses

The examination of witnesses should be conducted as far as practicable near the scene of offence or at the residence of witnesses concerned at some convenient place nearby.

Compounding Offences

The N PC has recommended that the police may be empowered in law to compound offences in simple cases even at the stage of police investigation, when both parties to a dispute may themselves like to settle the matter amicably. Due safeguards must of course be provided against a forced or contrived compromise. Presently this facility is available only at the stage of trial. This amendment in law would also reduce the workload in courts.

Intimation about Arrest

The NPC has recommended a new section 50-A in Chapter V of Cr. P.C. requiring the police to give intimation about the arrest of a person to anyone who may reasonably be named by him to avoid agonizing suspense to the members of his family about his whereabouts.

Use of Third Degree Methods

  • To reduce the use of third degree methods, the NPC has recommended:
  • Surprised visits by senior officers to police stations to detect persons held in illegal custody and subjected to ill treatment
  • The magistrate should be required by rules to question the arrested person if he has any complaint of ill treatment by the police and in case of complaint should get him medically examined.
  • There should be a mandatory judicial inquiry in cases of death or grievous hurt caused while in police custody
  • Police performance should not be evaluated on the basis of crime statistics or number of cases solved.
  • Training institutions should develop scientific interrogation techniques and impart effective instructions to trainees in this regard.

Attendance of Witnesses

The allowances payable to witnesses for their attendance in court should be fixed on a realistic basis and their payment should be effected through a simple procedure, which should avoid delay and inconvenience.

5. Fifth Report - Recruitment to the Police: Recruitment to the Police must be at two levels only- Constables and Indian Police Service. The recruitment at other levels should be eliminated in a phased manner.

Psychological Tests

Properly developed psychological tests should form an important part of the selection procedure. The Central Government should develop the psychological tests with the help of the Ministry of Defence.

Evaluation during Training

The Commission recommended that there should be constant evaluation of the performance, attitudes and behaviour of all recruits during training and those who are not shaping as good policemen should be weeded out.

Control of the District Magistrate

Presently, under section 4 of the Police Act of 1861, the District Police is subject to the “general control and direction” of the District Magistrate. The NPC felt that this cannot be construed as warranting any interference in the internal management of the police force. The police should perform with full accountability to the law of the land. Any rule or regulation which unnecessarily or without purpose subordinates the police to the DM should be removed. However, there are a number of areas, which would require active cooperation of different departments and in such matters coordination by the District Magistrate will be necessary. The role of the District Magistrate as a chief coordinating authority should be recognised and respected by the police, The NPC has prescribed the areas where the District Magistrate can play his role as the coordinating authority.

Causes of Poor Police Public Relations

Police public relations are in a very unsatisfactory state. Police partiality, corruption, brutality and failure to register cognizable offences are the most important reasons.

Police do in fact harass even those people who try to help them.

Vertical Communication in Police

Every policeman must develop an attitude of utmost courtesy and consideration towards members of the public who come to him for help. However, the manner in which police personnel at lower levels behave towards public is largely conditioned by the manner in which they are themselves treated by their own higher officers within the force. There is a simultaneous need for reform in behaviour and conduct of police officers towards one another.

Victims of Crime

The criminal justice system shows no concern for the victim of crime at any stage. The legislation of a Criminal Injuries Compensation Act is recommended.

Need for Transparency

All police activities, to the extent possible, should be open, except in four specific areas, which are

(i) operations;
(ii) intelligence on the basis of which operations are planned and conducted;
(iii) privacy of the individual citizen; and
(iv) judicial requirements.

Women Police

The NPC has recommended that women police should be strengthened and assigned investigation work in much greater measure that at present Women police should become an integral part of the police organisation and used to deal with crimes against women and children and in tackling the problem of juvenile delinquency. They should in due course share all the duties now performed by their male’ counterparts. They should be recruited in much larger numbers than at resent, particularly in the ranks of Assistant Sub-inspectors and Sub-inspectors of Police.

6. Sixth Report - Examinations for Promotion of Officers: Before promotion to the ranks of Superintendent of Police, DIG and IG, all IPS officers should be required to undergo specifically designed pre-promotion courses followed by an examination and an objective selection process.

Those who are not able to qualify for the post of DIG and IG even after being given ‘two more chances should be retired from service.

Creation of Central IPS Cadres

Two Central IPS Cadres should be constituted - one for the paramilitary organisations and the other for such organisations as IB, CBI, RAW etc.

Police Commissionerate System for Major Cities

In large urban areas, crime and law and order situations develop rapidly, requiring a speedy and effective operational response from the police. This can be possible only when the police are organised to perform twin basic functions of decision making and implementation. The Commission has therefore recommended that in cities with a population of 5 lakhs and above and even in places where there may be special reasons like speedy urbanisation, industrialization etc., the system of police commissionerate would provide more effective policing and should be introduced.

Separation of Investigating Staff from Law and Order Staff

The NPC has made conflicting recommendations on this subject. While in the Sixth Report, it has suggested the separation of staff at the police station level (Para 48.15), in the Seventh Report, the Commission has expressed an opinion against the bifurcation of staff on the ground that the police work can not be put in water-tight compartments.

7. Seventh Report- Restructuring of Civil Police Hierarchy: There should be an increase in the strength at middle levels of ASI/SI/inspector. Increase in the strength of these ranks should be offset by reducing numbers at the lower levels of constabulary. This will provide large number of investigating officers and improve promotional opportunities for the lower ranks.

Management of the Police Force

The internal management of the police force in the state should be entirely under the purview of the chief of police. The powers of the heads of the state police forces in respect of personnel and financial management and to provide infra-structural facilities for the growth of the police should be enhanced.

Central Law for Armed Police Forces

There should be a central enactment to ensure uniformity in composition, officering pattern, training, discipline and efficiency of the state armed police battalions.

Establishment of an All India Police Institute

An all India Police Institute on the lines of similar professional institutions existing for Engineers, Chartered Accountants and other professionals be created. This Institute, when established, should be kept under the proposed Central Police Committee.

8. Eighth Report - Police Accountability: There should be continuous monitoring of the performance of the police forces in the country. The State Security Commission should have an independent cell to evaluate police performance. The annual administration report of the head of the police force and assessment report of the Central Police Committee will provide additional material to the State Security Commission to prepare a final report on the performance of the state police to be placed before the State Legislature.

The police functionaries individually as well as in groups should be sensinsed to the idea of accountability to the people.

Enactment of a Model Police Act

The Police Act of 1861 should be replaced by a new Police Act, which not only changes the system of superintendence and control over the police but also enlarges the’ role of the police to make it function as an agency which promotes the rule of law in the country and renders impartial service to the community.

Response to NPC’s Recommendations

The major recommendations of the NPC have remained unimplemented. There is a deep-seated and strong resistance to the idea of police reforms. Politicians and bureaucrats have developed a great vested interest in retaining control and superintendence over the police organisation. Indicative of the deeply entrenched resistance to police reform is the fact that a letter written on the subject in April 1997 by Shri Indrajit Gupta, the then Union Home Minister to the Chief Ministers of all States exhorting them to rise above narrow partisan or political considerations and introduce police reforms on the lines recommended by the NPC, failed to produce even a single response.

Within the police establishment also, there are those who are content to retain the status quo. Closely associated with powerful interests, they acquiesce in and allow the system to continue.

The existing system is unacceptable. It has resulted in subverting the rule of law and in obstructing the growth of a healthy and professional system of policing. It must change.

National Human Rights Commission’s Initiatives: The National Human Rights Commission (HRC) was established in 1993. Despite its shortcomings, most of which are due to an inadequate law and an unresponsive government, can definitely claim some important achievements to its credit. The HRC is a party to the petition filed by two retired police officers in the Supreme Court, seeking the Court’s intervention to get the recommendations made by the NPC, to insulate police from illegitimate control of politicians, implemented. The NHRC has supported the petition and made its own detailed recommendations to the Court on the subject.
Besides attending to citizens’ complaints alleging violations of their rights and providing relief in genuine cases, it has brought into sharp focus the problem of custodial deaths. The NHRC has also succeeded in persuading the state governments to set up Human Rights Cells in the Police Headquarters to be headed by a senior officer. These Cells are expected to help deal with complaints against the police, develop training curricula, organise workshops and spread human rights awareness within the force. The Commission has also requested the Chief Justices of the High Courts and the state governments to direct the District Judges to constitute a District Complaints Authority in their respective jurisdictions to deal with public complaints against the police.

The HRC has issued comprehensive instructions/guidelines to the governments on various important issues, like custodial deaths/rapes; encounter deaths; visits to police lock ups; post mortem examinations; polygraph tests; arrests; and police community relations.


(i) There is need to create a new mechanism to enforce individual as well as organizational accountability of the police.
(ii) Creation of public grievances and complaints cell to make the police more accountable and responsive.
(iii) Removal of legal position to seek prior permission of the government for filing a complaint against a police officer in custodial death.
(iv) There is need for computerization of police records.
(v) Specialist ion in different aspects of policing such as intelligence, investigation and the armed wing is necessary.
(vi) Involvement of courts, people and innovative methods like neighbourhood police or community police can go a long way to prevent crime.
(vii) Police should be made literate on the human rights aspects.
(viii) Need for promotion of core democratic values, transparency responsibility and accountability in police.
(ix) Competence, integrity, professionalism and commitment to Rule of Law and public service have to be hallmark of policing.
(x) Need for increasing the cadre of investigating officers and also earmarking some staff for exclusively attending to investigational work.
(xi) Need to replace the police act of 1861 by a new act.

Administrative Reforms Commission-II: Recommendations

(a) 33% of Police force should be women.
(b) Better forensic infrastructure.
(c) Independent Inspectorate of Police to conduct performance audit
(d) Constabulary to be substituted by graduate ASI.
(e) Outsourcing of non core police functions to other agencies.
(f) Police Establishment Committee headed by chief secretary to be set up.
(g) State Police performance and accountability commission to be established

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