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Essay On Indian Police Reforms In Zambia

K.S. Subramanian

India's police are governed by colonial police laws harking back to 1861. There have been years of debate on police reforms in the country, but nothing much has changed in all these years.  

The police reforms and the reforms of criminal justice system is essential to wipe out the current phenomenon of ‘encounter’ killings by the police. Corruption and inefficiency are the other aspects of the deterioration of the criminal justice system in the country. The problem is complicated because of the ‘symbiotic relationship’ between ruling politicians and policemen. The role of training in explicating and implementing police accountability cannot be underestimated. 

Accountability means an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions. Accountability in the context of governance means that public officials have an obligation to explain their decisions and actions to citizens. Accountability is achieved through various mechanisms-political, legal and administrative. Setting up effective accountability mechanisms requires a delicate balance between control and initiative drawing on experience elsewhere. In the UK there are 43 police forces with a tripartite system of police accountability. In the US there are 17000 police forces each under the control of their respective elected local government. The complex task of balancing control over the use of police powers and the need for operational autonomy has necessitated the division of police functions into prevention, investigation and service provision. The police perform different functions and the accountability required for each is quite different as brought out in the 2007 report of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission (SARC). The entire police service would have to be restructured so as to have two separate agencies dealing with ‘investigation’ and ‘law and order’ with separate accountability mechanisms.

There should be independent District and State Police Complaints Authorities (PCAs) to look into allegations of human rights violations as well as an Independent Inspectorate of Police as in the UK to establish a system of rigorous inspection of police stations and the functioning of police officers. The inspectorate would also look into recurrent incidents of dubious deaths in ‘encounters’ with the police.

Key issues related to police’s image remain to be addressed. The criminal laws and procedure created by the British to suppress a colonised Indian people are still in place. A gap between the Constitutional imperatives in the Preamble, Directive Principles of State Policy and Fundamental Rights in the Constitution and the criminal laws and procedure remains. The enduring unpopularity and negative image of the Indian police continues despite the technical progress. Anandswarup Gupta mentioned some details in his 1979 study:   

The Indian Penal Code (IPC) begins with a chapter on ‘offences against the state’, criminal conspiracy etc ignoring the common preoccupation of the police everywhere with the prevention and detection of offences against person and property. These find a place in the IPC only from section 299 onwards. The offence of ‘sedition’ was included in the Code in 1870 freely used today to check freedom of expression guaranteed in the Constitution.

In the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) the chapters on security for keeping the peace and maintenance of public order, including the use of force by the police take precedence over provisions for the investigation and trial of criminal offences.

The Police Act of 1861 prioritises collection of political intelligence relegating prevention and investigation of crime as duties of the police to Section 23. Punitive policing at the cost of the local population and appointment of private persons as ‘special police officers’ are provided for. Even the lowest ranking officer can arrest anyone and keep him in custody for at least 24 hours.

Police officers at all levels need to be sensitized to human rights. The National Human Rights Commission has stated that 60 per cent of all the arrests made by the police are either unjustified or unnecessary and that 75 per cent of all the complaints of human rights violations received are against the police.

Moreover, custodial violence, torture and extrajudicial executions continue. A 2008 report said that 1.8 million people are being tortured in police custody every year. India is yet to ratify the UN Convention against Torture.  


KS SUBRAMANIAN is a former member of the Indian Police Service and was Director General of the State Institute of Public Administration and Rural Development, Government of Tripura, India.

Even after eleven years of the supreme court asking all states and the Centre to bring in reforms to make the police force more people-centric than ruler-centric not much has changed on the ground.

During our colonial time common people like farmers, small business owners, activists among others had to fear the sound of Police. Colonial police structure is based on mistrust, and the image associated with it was tough. Did this change after independence?? Do we see police as a sign of relief or trouble?? Can we go to a police station and register a complaint without fear or “money”? When faced with danger do we call police or friends?

Our Prime Minister Narendra Modi was correct in saying that we need a SMART police. Police should be sensitive, mobile, alert, reliable and techno-savvy. But, the real question is how long we are supposed to wait to get such a police force? After almost 70 years of independence, we are still governed majorly by Indian Police Act (IPA) of 1861.

British colonisers drafted IPA as a direct consequence of the Revolt of 1857. It was based on colonial distrust of the lower ranks. The decision making lies with few high-placed police officers while constables merely followed orders. After Independence, efforts were made to change, but the police system still remains almost intact.

Supreme Court Judgement
On 22nd Dec 2006, the Supreme Court of India delivered a historic judgement in Prakash Singh Vs Union of India instructing the central and state governments to comply with a set of seven directives that laid down practical mechanism to kick-start police reforms.

The court sought to achieve functional autonomy to the police and enhanced police accountability through its directives. The court’s directives in a nutshell are:

  • Constitute a State Security Commission (SSC) to ensure that the state government does not exercise unwarranted influence or pressure on the police. SSC will also lay down broad policy guideline and evaluate the performance of the state police.
  • Ensure that the DGP is appointed through the merit-based transparent process and secure a minimum tenure of two years.
  • Even police officers on operational duties (Including Superintendents of Police in-charge of Districts and Station House Officer in-charge of a police station) are also provided minimum tenure of 2 years.
  • Separation of investigative and law and order Functions of the police.
  • Set up a Police Establishment Board to decide on transfers, postings, promotions and other service related matters of police officers of and below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) and recommend the same for officers above the rank of DSP.
  • Set up Police Complaints Authority at state and district level to inquire into public complaints against police officers in cases of serious misconduct.
  • Set up National Security Commission at the Union level to prepare a panel for selection and placement of Chiefs of the Central Police Organisations with a minimum tenure of two years

Did we see any change after the judgement??
Power is something very important for our politicians. How can they lose such power and influence over our powerful police??

First of all, the judgement rattled our politicians. They feared the loss of power and eight states (Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh) in an attempt to hold on to that power filed review petitions. However, all these petitions were dismissed by Supreme Court on Aug 23rd, 2007. They had no intention to reform our police force unless forced.

Since the order, 17 states have passed new Acts while 12 have issued executive orders. Almost none followed the SC order either in letter or spirit. These Acts, unfortunately, were passed to circumvent the implementation of the court’s directions. The states took advantage of a provision in the judgement that its orders would be operative “till such time a new Model Police Act is prepared by the central government and/or the state government pass the requisite legislation”.

“When the supreme court order came, the states quickly latched on to the part of it which said the order must be followed until new acts are passed. Thus states quickly passed new acts in order to not to follow SC directions on police reforms” says former Uttar Pradesh DG Prakash Singh who fought for 10 years to get SC pass the orders.

On May 17th, 2008 the SC constituted a monitoring committee headed by Justice KT Thomas to oversee the implementation of its directives. The committee in its report submitted in 2010 said: “practically no state has fully complied with those directives so far, in letter and spirit.” It also expressed its “dismay over the total indifference to the issue of reforms in the functioning of police being exhibited by the states”.

In many states, the composition of State Security Commission is not independent of the political influence of ruling party. Most states have avoided having the opposition leader in the commission, and independent members were kept away. Independence of DGP is of paramount importance. Many states have refused to give more than one-year fixed tenure to DGP. Even reasons for his removal have been kept vague with grounds ranging from public interest, administrative exigencies and incapacitation.

Model Police Act was drafted by Former Attorney Soli Sorabjee way back in 2006. Instead of hearing news of Model Police Act being implemented we are still hearing about pleas that are being filed in SC for implementation.

Demand for police reforms is not a new one. People have demanded reforms in police even before our independence. Various commissions and committees like Ribero Committee, Padmanabhaiah Committee, Malinath Committee, National Police Commission, etc. have submitted multiple recommendations and reports. These reports are just collecting specks of dust with none completely implemented.

If the states and centre took the judgement of our SC as an opportunity to undo their historical mistakes, we would have seen a better police force. It is not all that bad, some positive changes have been made and incorporated into our Police Acts, it is just that they are not good enough.

To those politicians saying that judiciary is stepping beyond its boundary into legislative and executive functions, let us not forget that judiciary reacted after our legislative failed to act for 60 years. Our politicians should move beyond questions like who should control Delhi Police? Who should control CBI? They should not fight with Election Commission for transferring their favourites before elections.

Autonomy of our police forces, independence from political influence is a must for police to perform their job professionally. They should not fear frequent transfers and “punishment postings”. Let us hope that our politicians will realise that they are behaving in the same way our colonial masters behaved. Let us hope that they rise above desires like power and start valuing autonomy when it comes to the functioning of our police.

Let us request Prime Minister Narendra Modi to implement the directives by Supreme Court, you can sign the petition here: Implement Supreme Court’s Directives on Police Reforms

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