Saturday, 30 June 2012

Police Reform Debates in India: A Summary

Reproduced from: CHRI 2011, Police Reform Debates in India.

India’s police continue to be governed by an archaic and colonial police law passed in 1861. The Indian Constitution makes policing a state subject and therefore the state governments have the responsibility to provide their communities with a police service. However, after independence most have adopted the 1861 Act without change, while others have passed laws heavily based on the 1861 Act.

The need for reform of police in India and - fundamentally- the police laws, has been long recognised.  There has been almost 30 years of debate and discussion by government created committees and commissions on the way forward for police reform, but India remains saddled with an outdated and old-fashioned law, while report after report gathers dust on government bookshelves without implementation.

This publication sets out selected reforms of these committees,  beginning with the National Police Commission, the first committee set up by the Indian government to report on policing.  The National Police Commission began sitting in 1979, in the context of a post-Emergency India, and produced eight reports, including a Model Police Act, between 1979 and 1981.

In 1996, two former senior police officers filed a public interest case with the Supreme Court, asking for the Court to direct governments to implement the recommendations of the National Police Commission. The Supreme Court directed the government to set up a committee to review the Commission’s recommendations, and the Ribeiro Committee was born. The Committee, under the leadership of J.F. Ribeiro, a former chief of police, sat over 1998 and 1999, and produced two reports.

In 2000, the government set up a third committee on police reform, this time under the stewardship  of a former union Home Secretary, Mr. K. Padmanabhaiah. This Committee released its report in the same year.

In 2005, the government put together a group to draft a new police Act for India. Headed by a senior advocate of the Supreme Court, Mr. Soli Sorabjee, the Police Act Drafting Committee submitted a Model Police Act to the union government in late 2006.

At the same time, the Supreme Court made further directions in the long running public interest litigation on police reform.  The Court directed the governments of India to implement police reform, and provided them with a framework within which to begin the reform process.

Select Recommendations from the above process are given below. This is not an exhaustive list- just including a few points that may clarify/illustrate the topic.


  1. The basic role of the police is to function as a law enforcement agency and render impartial service to the law, without any heed to the 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 a recognised service-oriented role in providing relief to people in distress situations. They should be trained and equipped to perform the service-oriented functions
  2. In the existing system, the police function under the executive control of the state government. The threat of transfer or suspension is the most potent weapon in the hands of the politicians to bend the police to their will. In the performance of its preventive tasks and service-oriented functions, the police organisation should be  subject to  overall guidance from the government, which should lay down broad policies for adoption in different situations. However, there should be no instructions in regard to actual operations in the field. A State Security Commission should be set up to help the state government discharge its superintendence responsibilities openly.
  3. Police and Disadvantaged Groups: A special investigation cell should be created in the police department at the state level to monitor the progress of investigation of cases under the Protection of Civil Rights Act or other atrocities against Scheduled Castes and Tribes.
  4. Petty CashPolice stations should be given adequate petty cash to meet day to day costs of the police station. This is to prevent corruption.
  5. Recruitment:Officers should only be recruited as Constables or members of the Indian Police Service. Recruitment to other levels of the police hierarchy should be eliminated in a phased manner.
  6. Control of the District Magistrate: Section 4 of the Police Act of 1861 states that the District Police are subject to the “general control and direction” of the District Magistrate. This should not be interpreted as allowing the District Magistrate to interfere in the internal management of the police force. Any rule or regulation that unnecessarily subordinates the police to the District Magistrate should be removed. Where cooperation between different departments is required, the District Magistrate should play a  coordinating role, and this role should be recognised by the police.  (Note that the NPC set out the areas where the District Magistrate could act as a coordinating authority.) 
  7. Police conduct: Police public relations are unsatisfactory. The police organisation’s poor image stems from police partiality, corruption, brutality and failure to register cognisable offences.Police officers should develop an attitude of courtesy and consideration towards members of the public who come to them for help.The way that junior police behave towards the public is influenced by the way they are treated by senior police.  The way that police treat one another should be reformed.
  8. Police Commissionerate system in major cities:  In major urban areas, crime and law and order situations develop rapidly, requiring a speedy and effective operational response from the police. This is only possible where the police are organised to perform the twin basic functions of decision-making and implementation. In cities with a population over 5 lakhs (or where factors such as rapid urbanisation or industrialisation require), a Police Commissionerate system should be put in place.
  9. Composition of Police: The composition of the police should reflect the general mix of communities as it exists in the society so that it can command the confidence of different sections of society.
  10. Investigation staff should be separated from law and order staff at the police station level in urban areas. The separation of investigation and law and order staff should not be rigid and all staff in a police station should report to the Station House Officer.
  11. A police station should not service more than 60,000 people. If the station registers more than 700 crimes annually, another police station should be set up.
  12. Withdrawal of protection from prosecution: Protection available to the police officers should be withdrawn under sections 132 and 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which provide protection to various categories of public servants from prosecution for acts they commit in the course of performing their duties. The state should pay for the defence of a police officer who is being prosecuted.

  1. Reiterated the setting up of a State Security Commission but suggested the alternate title of "Police Performance and Accountability Commission".
  2. A District Police Complaints Authority headed by a District Sessions Judge to receive complaints against all officers below the rank of Superintendent of Police.
  3. Police Establishment Board to look into personnel matters like transfers, promotions, punishments etc
  4. Selection of DGP through a committee chaired by UPSC Chairperson. Such a selection will also help insulate the investigation wing of the police from undue pressure.
  5. It seconded the NPC recommendations on replacing the 1861 law with a new law; recruitment; promotions; separation of law& order staff from investigative staff. 

RECOMMENDATIONS OF OTHER COMMITTEES (whatever caught my eye- Spurthi)

Padmanabhaiah Committee 2000
- VIP security needs to be reviewed and dismantled.
A permanent National Commission for Policing Standards should be established to lay down common standards for the police across the different states, and to ensure state governments set up mechanisms to enforce the standards. 
A Constable should be classified as a skilled worker.
- In recognition of the shift nature of police work, police personnel should be provided one day off each week and required to go on earned leave each year. 
Community policing philosophies should be  embraced. The union government should produce a handbook on community policing, provide training on community policing and fund pilot community policing projects.

POLICE ACT DRAFTING COMMITTEE 2005-06 (Chaired by Soli Sorabjee)
All officers must be provided with a minimum of two years tenure in a particular post to ensure they are free to complete their tasks free of illegitimate interference.
The Director General of Police shall have a minimum tenure of two years, irrespective of their date of superannuation.
The Police Establishment Committee must consider complaints from police officers who have been given an illegal order and then make appropriate recommendations to the Director General of Police. 
Promotion must be based on merit, evaluated by a qualifying examination and a performance evaluation.
Constables shall be replaced by a Civil Police Officer, with a higher standard of education and training.
A Police Welfare Bureau must be set up to improve the welfare of police officers. Officer welfare shall be improved by providing free insurance cover, putting in place internal grievance redressal systems and introducing eight- hour shifts.

Prakash Singh v/s Union  of India: the Supreme Court Directives 2006-2007.  The important directives concern:
1.  State Security Commission: to protect police from illegitimate political interference
2.  National Security Commission: wrt Central Police Forces: empanelment for promotion; suggest measures to improve effectiveness; proper coordination between police forces; 
3.  Selection and Minimum tenure of Police Chief.: min tenure of 2 years
4.  Minimum tenure of other officers: in field units min tenure will be 2 years.
5.  Separation of investigation and law and order functions
6.  Police Establishment Board: to decide transfers, promotions and service related matters of DSP and junior officers. It will also give recommendations on similar issues wrt officers above DSP post to the state government.
7.  Police Complaints Authority
8. New Police Acts to replace the 1861 Act which will incorporate the above recommendations. As of 2011, 13 state governments had passed new police acts.Unfortunately most of these new laws are as regressive, if not more so, than the archaic laws which they replace.  


  1. Excellent source. Fan of your blog. Keep up the good work.

  2. Figures from the doc ( ):

    1. Currently in India, one police officer serves 700-750 citizens, compared to 242 in Australia or 382 in South Africa.
    2. Many of the people who participated in Transparency International India’s study in 2005 were of the perception that
    - the police personnel had an indifferent attitude towards their complaints, and the police force was riddled with corruption.
    - Other problems are: use of english as procedural language, non-availability of forms and guidelines, interference of middlemen. The commitment of police to fight corruption within the service was also perceived to be low.
    - 74% respondents felt the service provided by the police personnel is inadequate, and only 11% felt it be 'good'.

    3. Numbers of police officers in India in 2001:
    -Country Civilian Police: 1 077 415
    - Armed police: 372 346
    - Total police strength: 1 449 761
    - Police per 10 000 population in 2001: 14.1

    4. Total no. of cases for trial in 2005: 69,91,508. Trial completed in only 14.5% cases.