New India, Old Police: The Absolute State of Police Reforms in the India

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Sannidhya Sandheer
Sannidhya Sandheer
Sannidhya Sandheer is the co-founder of and newsletter editor at Mission Victory India. He writes on issues of national interest in various domains such as geopolitics, defence, environment and polity. Follow him on Twitter @wolfsandheer. *Views are personal.

“The police force is far from efficient, it is defective in training and organizing, it is inadequately supervised, it is generally regarded as corrupt, oppressive and it utterly failed to secure the confidence and cordial cooperation of the people.” – Fraser Commission, 1902

The above quote from 1902 clearly underlines the kind of police system that was defined by the Police Act, 1861. Since Independence, the Constitution makers felt the same Act to be adequate to go on to form the basis of the Police of free India. Unfortunately, in the 21st century, the ills haunt us still.

Brief Timeline of the Police Reforms

1977 National Police Commission

The National Police Commission (NPC) was constituted in 1977 to study the problems of police and make a comprehensive review of the police system at national level. The NPC dealt with a wide range of aspects of police functioning. The National Police Commission submitted eight reports during the period February 1979 to May 1981.

The first report was laid on the Table of Lok Sabha on 1.2.1980. The remaining seven reports were released in March 1983 with the specific directive from the Central Government to all State Governments/UT Administrations that these reports may be examined quickly and appropriate action taken. The Central Government took initiatives in persuading the State Governments/UTs to implement the recommendations of the National Police Commission.

The major recommendations of the NPC to amend the Code of Criminal procedure 1973 were considered in the Chief Minister’s Conference on the Administration of Criminal Justice System held on 13th November 1992. The Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Bill 1994 introduced in the Rajya Sabha had, inter alia, contained these recommendations. This Bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha on 4.5.2005 and in Lok Sabha on 9.5.2005 respectively.

Other important recommendations of NPC for revision of syllabus for IPS probationers’ trainees/augmentation of DCPW have already been implemented and a new Bill for regulation of private security agencies have since been passed by the Parliament and become an Act.

1998 Ribeiro Committee

On the directions of the Supreme Court of India in the case of Prakash Singh vs Union of India and others pertaining to implementation of the recommendations of the National Police Commission, the Government had on 25th May 1998, constituted a Committee under the Chairmanship of Shri J.F. Ribeiro, IPS (Retd.). The Ribeiro Committee submitted two reports which were filed in the Supreme Court during 1998 and 1999, respectively.

The Ribeiro Committee endorsed the recommendations of the NPC with certain modifications. The case came up for hearing on 10.2.2005 and the Hon’ble Court directed the Union of India and respective State Governments including NHRC to file their responses with regard to the direction issued in the Vineet Narain case and implementation of recommendations of Ribeiro Committee.

2000 Padmanabhaiah Committee

Government had set up a Committee in January 2000 under the Chairmanship of Shri K. Padmanabhaiah, former Union Home Secretary, to suggest the structural changes in the police to meet the challenges in the new millennium. The Committee submitted its report to the Government on 30.8.2000. In all, there are about 240 recommendations made by the Committee. The recommendations have been examined in this Ministry.

Out of 240 recommendations of the Committee, 23 recommendations regarding review of allocation of cadre policy, direct IPS officers to be given charge of district, to post IAS/IPS as judicial magistrate, police commissioners system in cities, division of NICFS, compulsory retirement to those not empaneled as DIG, review of cadre allotment policy of IPS for NE, recruitment of Constables and sub-Inspectors from the boys who have passed 10th & 12th Examination and giving them 2/3 years training in Police training Schools/Police Training Colleges respectively, maximum age of entry of IPS to be reduced to 24 years and federal offences etc were not accepted, after examination.

As many as 154 recommendations pertaining to recruitment, training, reservation of posts, involvement of public in crime prevention, recruitment of police personnel, delegation of powers to lower ranks in police, revival of beat system, use of traditional village functional village functionaries, police patrolling on national and state highways, designs of the police stations, posting and transfer of SP and above etc. were found to be such that they can be implemented without any structural changes.

2000 Malimath Committee

The Government had set up (November 2000) a Committee under the Chairmanship of Dr. (Justice) V.S. Malimath, a former Chief Justice of the Karnataka and Kerala High Courts to consider and recommend measures for revamping the Criminal Justice System. The Malimath Committee submitted its report in April 2003 which contained 158 recommendations. These pertain to strengthening of training infrastructure, forensic science laboratory and Fingerprint Bureau, enactment of new Police Act, setting up of Central Law Enforcement agency to take care of federal crimes, separation of investigation wing from the law-and-order wing in the police stations, improvement in investigation by creating more posts, establishment of the State Security Commission, etc.

2005 New Police Model Act

As one of the recommendations of the Review Committee was replacement of the Police Act, 1861, the Ministry of Home Affairs set up an Expert Committee to draft a new Model Police Act in September 2005. The Committee submitted a model Police Act on 30th October 2006.

The Model Police Act emphasized the need to have a professional police ‘service’ in a democratic society, which is efficient, effective, responsive to the needs of the people and accountable to the Rule of Law. The Act provided for social responsibilities of the police and emphasizes that the police would be governed by the principles of impartiality and human rights norms, with special attention to protection of weaker sections including minorities. The other salient features of Model Police Act include:

Functional autonomy

While recognising that the police is an agency of the State and therefore accountable to the elected political executive, the Committee has specifically outlined the role of Superintendence of the State Government over the police. The Model Police Act suggested creation of a State Police Board, Merit-based selection, and appointment of the Director General of Police, ensuring security of tenures, setting up of Establishment Committees.

Encouraging professionalism

To ensure an efficient, responsive, and professional police service, the Model Act sought earmarking dedicated staff for crime investigation, and distinct cadre for Civil police vis-à-vis Armed Police.

Accountability paramount

The Act prioritised police accountability, both for their performance and their conduct.

Improved service conditions

The Act also aimed to provide better service conditions to the police personnel including rationalising their working hours, one day off in each week, or compensatory benefits in lieu. It suggested creation of a Police Welfare Bureau to take care, inter alia, of health care, housing, and legal facilities for police personnel as well as financial security for the next of kin of those dying in service. It further mandates the government to provide insurance cover to all officers, and special allowances to officers posted in special wings commensurate with the risk involved.

2006 Supreme Court Directives in the Prakash Singh v Union of the India

The Supreme Court of India has passed a judgement on September 22, 2006, in Writ Petition (Civil) No.310 of 1996 – Prakash Singh and others vs UOI and others on several issues concerning Police reforms. The Court in the said judgement directed the Union Government and State Governments to set up mechanisms as directed by December 31, 2006, and file affidavits of compliance by January 3, 2007. The directions inter-alia was:

1.     Constitute a State Security Commission on any of the models recommended by the National Human Right Commission, the Ribeiro Committee, or the Sorabjee Committee.

2.     Select the Director General of Police of the State from amongst three senior-most officers of the Department empaneled for promotion to that rank by the Union Public Service Commission and once selected, provide him a minimum tenure of at least two years irrespective of his date of superannuation.

3.     Prescribe a minimum tenure of two years to the police officers on operational duties.

4.     Separate investigating police from law & order police, starting with towns/ urban areas having population of ten lakhs or more, and gradually extend to smaller towns/urban areas also,

5.     Set up a Police Establishment Board at the state level for inter alia deciding all transfers, postings, promotions, and other service-related matters of officers of and below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police, and

6.     Constitute Police Complaints Authorities at the State and District level for looking into complaints against police officers.

7.     The Supreme Court also directed the Central Government to set up a National Security Commission at the Union Level to prepare a panel for being placed before the appropriate Appointing Authority, for selection and placement of Chiefs of the Central Police Organisations (CPOs), who should also be given a minimum tenure of two years, with additional mandate to review from time to time measures to upgrade the effectiveness of these forces, improve the service conditions of its personnel, ensure that there is proper coordination between them and that the forces are generally utilized for the purposes they were raised and make recommendations in that behalf.

2007 Second Administrative Reforms Commission: 5th Report – Public Order

On the basis of the analysis and recommendations of various expert bodies and inputs from citizens, civil society groups and professionals, the Commission is of the view that the following eight core principles should form the bedrock of police and criminal justice reforms:

1.     Responsibility of the Elected Government

2.     Authority, Autonomy and Accountability

3.     Disaggregation and Deconcentration

4.     Independence of Crime Investigation

5.     Self-esteem of Policemen

6.     Professionalisation, Expertise and Infrastructure

7.     Attendant Criminal Law Reform

8.     Police to be a Service

The report reiterated the impetus of implementation of the reforms suggested prior and further envisioned a holistic police service which is community oriented and futuristic rather than the colonial police force which was ruler oriented.

Police Have Nothing: No Act, No Say, No Life

No Act: Colonial Police

The Police Act of independent India remains only a draft even after 74 years of Independence. The primary role is the challenge posed by the Seventh Schedule in bringing about a holistic and national reform of the police service. Being a State subject, the Union has no jurisdiction legislatively. As per a Ministry of Home Affairs press release dated 22.07.2015, the provisions from Model Police Act from 9 years prior were only implemented by 17 State Governments either by amendment or formulation of State Police Act.

There is an urgency for the police service to match the pace of the nation in other regards and take active strides towards becoming a progressive, modern force that is sensitive to democratic aspirations of the citizens.

No Say: Political Interference

Each MLA seeks Circle Inspector and Sub Inspectors of his choice to be posted in his constituency. The caste, allegiance, amount of bribes, attitude towards people of the MLA’s community, and ‘flexibility’ are the characteristics that determine posting of a policeman. At the state level, senior Police officers are promoted to serve the ‘needs’ of the ruling party. To go ‘slow’ on certain cases, to thwart investigation, to ‘deal’ with political opponents, to ‘handle’ underworld businesses – police are needed for the politicians.

Additionally, without any strict or transparent system of appointment, the Police career progression is largely entwined with the political office holders. Attempts by the Supreme Court to bring about rationalisation to the process, especially towards the top of the force are appreciated only by the citizens. 2017 Kerala case of TP Senkumar’s arbitrary transfer exposes the gross lack of independence police enjoy.

Major reforms seek transparency in appointments, transfers on the basis of objective parameters. These reforms aim to squarely eliminate political interference. The 268th Law Commission found the police to arrest about 60% of time unnecessarily and there are at any time about 67% prisoners under trial. Of all the inmates, 70% lack literacy or are semi-literate.

This unfortunately paints a picture of selective functioning of the judicial system. Further there was found to be an abhorrent lack of knowledge of the Indian Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code, especially in the lower ranks of the police and the constables form 87% of the entire police force.

If this is not an active continuation of a ruler oriented colonial police that safeguards the representatives more than the people, then what is?

No Life

The risk to life in the police is very high and in fact, policemen in India are killed in performance of duties more than in any other country. This also follows from the state of police infrastructure where the weaponry, vehicles, etc are obsolete and unmatched with the modern weaponry used by the criminals and the anti-social elements.

Further, there is an evolution of the challenges to public order compounded by the foray of the internet. In this regard, when our police training remains outdated, without any human rights modules, we are releasing empowered swords on the streets when the citizens need educated surgical blades to safeguard the citizenry while maintaining a strict grip on violations.

The life of the policeman in real life is unlike the brute showcased in reel life. They are always understaffed so the existing personnel are always overburdened. And they are on duty, always. A job that pits one in the life of what one might find palatable day in, day out, without any break for years at end can only be imagined breaking someone psychologically. They end up pulling 14-15 hours of work for 7 days a week.

To add this personal turmoil is the absolute lack of dignity from the common populace. Most citizens are fearful, find the process unfriendly and corrupt.

There is a need to recognise the feats that have sought to allay these issues. Madras High Court ruled on contemplation of weekly off for the police. Meanwhile, the number of child friendly police stations with pink walls and toys and trained staff continue to grow in adoption nationwide.

To tackle cybercrime, not only most States have a cybercrime unit, but there are also various grassroots level initiatives, like the one spearheaded by two constables from Gwalior who use a WhatsApp group comprising of constables from various parts of the country as well as various companies to detect digital theft of financial credentials and even retrieve stolen amount. And the recent foray of the various police forces on social media are a good start towards building a more approachable police force.

Many Jobs and Many Takers But No Doers

The police system to the citizen is merely an enforcer of laws. However, when one realises the breadth and the depth of the longest written Constitution of the world, one realises that a single enforcer is largely overburdened. Police, while not being the only enforcer, are still overburdened legislatively in terms of duties.

It is not only the enforcer of public order, but also the nodal agency for building good local intel. Furthermore, it is also entrusted with investigation of criminal acts. While these seem, at times, logically the same task, these all involve different approaches in most regards.

Additionally, police often function in conjunction with other agencies like Enforcement Directorate, Central Bureau of Intelligence, National Intelligence Agency. However, more often than not, there are clashes either over jurisdiction or prevailing laws/procedures or simply either furthering political agenda.

Further, the police often are specialised task forces but without any mechanism for best practices being shared, collaboration platform, etc. in case of grave incidents, there is an unfortunate internal tussle. Recent incident of the martyrdom of a special unit in a Maoist area brought this unfortunate reality to the forefront. While our armed forces are revered and feared equally internationally, the same cannot be transferred to the police forces despite both working for the same country, same goal, and the same citizen.

Responsive and Respected: Building a SMART Police

There is a need for active reforms in the regard of police. Decades of reforms have largely laid the foundation of the new Police Service: responsive, respected, service-oriented. The only thing lacking today is the political will. There is a need to not only police the police but also protect the protectors with assuring structured duty timings, weekly offs, etc.

Additionally, there is a need to separate the silos of police duties in a matter that eases administration, reduces scope for politicisation but also maintains if not increases internal cohesion. Furthermore, we must create a national platform for collaboration between various enforcers to share not only intel but also best practices. Increasing transparency and educating the forces from the bottom up will ensure the surgical blade the democracy deserves.

The role of the police is to uphold and enforce law, investigate crimes, and ensure security of the citizens. To enable the police to function as required in the duty of the people’s representatives. The greater impact of the politicisation and the nexus so formed is the adverse reaction to reforms.

These reforms, one must note, often come from the Supreme Court directly for direct adoption and yet remain to be ratified by States. We need a leadership role of the civil society and constant coercion towards the states. But the difficulty lies in the fact that it’s been impossible to persuade each state to enact a law in consonance with the Supreme Court directives.

The only hope was the Supreme Court, and it seems the states need another stern warning from the court – which they got and forgot. The transformative reform in the Indian Police is possible through appropriate interventions in skill building and attitudinal training, through reforms that are both bold and practical, and through collective action of all stakeholders to drive a nationwide campaign for change, keeping in mind the difficult conditions under which our police functions.


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