*Shakeb Ayaz

The issue of police reforms: Overview

Democratic governance requires democratic policing where people trust the police and approach them without fear. Many countries, including India have failed to provide the general public with an honest and efficient police force which can ensure safe and secure environment to the people. Police indulges in human rights violations, torture, unprovoked firing, extra-judicial killings & practices discrimination. It arouses public fear and anger across communities in India. The level of distrust in the police in India may be more among minorities, dalits and other poor sections of the society. In United States and Europe, the Blacks and the immigrants are often on the wrong side of policing.

On April 7, 2015, 20 woodcutters from Tamil Nadu were gunned down by Red Sanders Anti-Smuggling Task Force in Chittoor. Andhra Pradesh government condemned them as ‘’smugglers’’. The state DGP claimed they attacked the forces with axes and sickles, prompting them to open fire in ‘’self-defense’’1. Contrary to his claims all the bodies had bullet wounds in the abdomen, chest, face and back of the neck. Some of the dead laborers had burn marks on the arm, raising suspicions of torture.

A bulletin of the renowned civil liberties watchdog Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) thus commented: ‘’Eye witnesses testified (that they were) taken to a remote location and there, reportedly shot dead. The hands of some of the dead bodies were said to have rope marks indicating that the hands were tied to the back before being shot; the bullet wounds also indicated that perhaps the dead persons were shot at close range.’’2

On October 20, 2015, the Delhi High Court came down heavily on Delhi Police for custodial death of one Shahnawaz Chaudhary. A media report quoted the HC bench as: “One of the reasons why torture and custodial deaths are endemic in India on a large scale is that the police feel they are immune from (sic) the rigours of the law and are confident that they will not be held accountable, even if the victims die in custody and even if the truth is revealed.”3

Asian Centre for Human Rights in its report, ‘Torture in India 2011’4 pointed out that a total of 14,231 persons i.e. more than four persons per day died in police and judicial custody in India from 2001 to 2010. This includes 1,504 deaths in police custody and 12,727 deaths in judicial custody from 2001-2002 to 2009-2010 as per the cases submitted to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). Maharashtra topped the table with 250 deaths in police custody during the period 2001-10. It was followed by Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh.

From 2004-2005 to 2013-2014, this report counts 16,465 cases of custodial death (with 1,389 deaths in police custody, 15,076 deaths in judicial custody; 10,900 deaths in “encounters” including 1,654 deaths involving police and 2,527 deaths in police firing.5

1. http://bit.ly/1Yvxnba  The Color of Cold Blood; Madhavi Tata; April 20, 2015 (Last visited on Nov. 24, 2015) 

2. http://www.pucl.org/bulletins/2015/PUCLmay2015.pdf&embedded=true  (Last visited on Nov. 24, 2015) Challenges before the Human Rights Movement Today; V Suresh; PUCL bulletin, May 2015 (Last visited on Nov. 24, 2015) 

3. http://bit.ly/1IiA7PT  HC on NandNagri incident: Police feel they are imm une from rigors of law; Indian Express; Oct 21, 2015 

4. http://www.achrweb.org/reports/india/torture2011.pdf&embedded=true  (Last visited on Nov. 24, 2015) 

5. http://bit.ly/1NdSL0X The State of Right to Life in India; ACHR Press release; Aug 25, 2015 (Last visited on Nov. 26, 2015)

The worst victims of police brutality continue to be the disadvantaged sections such as the tribals, dalits, slum dwellers, rural poor and the minorities. Many commissions of enquiry instituted after communal riots have concluded that the police have remained mute spectators while politically motivated mobs have gone around attacking people with virtual impunity. The Nanavati Commission report on the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 indicted Delhi police for massacres in the capital, “It was also felt that the Delhi Police was not only negligent in protecting the Sikhs and their properties but probably connived at or instigated such attacks.” The commission concluded that “the attacks on Sikhs were organized by the Congressmen or their supporters…”6 Many citizens commissions and fact finding reports that have probed Gujarat communal massacres of 2002 have concluded that the men in uniform were partisan, communal and, instead of providing assistance to the victims they even “taunted them & forced them towards the rioting mob & death.”7
Such incidents prove that police force in the country have not been able to perform their role in an impartial manner. Three DGPs Sanjeev Dayal, Deoraj Nagar and K. Ramanujam had in 2013-14 prepared a report called “Strategy for making police forces more sensitive towards minority sections”. The report concluded that there is a trust deficit among Muslims, who see the police force as “communal, biased and insensitive…. ill-informed, corrupt and lacking professionalism”.8
Attitude of political class towards police reform
What complicates the issue of police attitude towards the vulnerable sections is that human rights violations do not appear to be a priority for the political parties and political executives. They do not buy the idea that good human rights record is the surest index of good governance. Summing up the attitude of the political executive towards police reform, Justice Rajinder Sachar said “It is a common perception that human rights violations will continue to persist as long as there are no significant police reforms.”9 He was pointing out the reluctance of the political class to reform the police force for narrow political interests. Pre-independence the British rulers used the police force to perpetuate colonial rule, and post-independence the political parties continue to use the police force to further their partisan and divisive agenda. 
One of the recent examples of a top police officer complaining about ‘undue’ interference in discharging his duty in an impartial manner is former Bundi SP Pankaj Chaudhary. The IPS officer who now heads 11th battalion of Rajasthan Armed Constabulary in New Delhi, recently accused Rajasthan’s Vasundhara Raje government of targeting him for acting against Bajrang Dal and VHP rioters last year in Bundi where he was posted as police chief and there was pressure from “all levels of government.”10
“The morale of the force had plummeted. The team I had led would call me and say that the rioters had become emboldened and were challenging the police to act against them now that they had succeeded in getting the SP removed,” Chaudhary said.  Commenting on the fate of Chaudhary, former top cop and a big votary of police reform Julio Ribeirio wrote in his blog: “As long as the political class dictates the transfers and appointments of police chiefs and police officers at different levels politicians will continue to play their games. Politicians are bothered about their votes and their power struggles. Policemen are supposed to bother about the law and the Constitution. But as long as the politician dictates the terms of service IPS officers should know that their goose is cooked if they do not toe political lines.” 11

6. http://bit.ly/1OhMCBG  Justice Nanavati Commission of Enquiry (1984 Anti-Sikh riots) Report; Introduction

7. http://bit.ly/1NdSvPx  (Protest Petition MsZakiaJaffriVsNarendra Modi and Others) (Last visited on Nov. 24, 2015)

8. http://bit.ly/1zKYtQ4  Muslims think we are communal, corrupt:Police; Indian Express; July 17, 2014

9. http://www.pucl.org/Topics/Police/2002/reforming.htm  PUCL; Reforming the Police by Rajinder Sachar

10. http://bit.ly/1QHQdaT Indian Express, Sept 17 (Last visited on Nov. 24, 2015)

11. http://bit.ly/1NuOMiz Julio Ribeiro ’s Blog; Indian Express; Sept 20, 2015 (Last visited on Nov. 26, 2015)

Paul Brass, a distinguished political scientist who is known for his path-breaking work on India said while commenting on the role of the police in the communal conflict in Uttar Pradesh: ‘’The police are seen as an instruments of the party in power at the state and district level…police operates under order of those who control the government, who in turn operate to harass their political opponents, protect their supporters, and deny protection to latter’s supporters.’’12

It is important to note that politicians, irrespective of parties and affiliations, feel that their interests are best served by using the police and para military forces as their private armies rather than as professional forces. Says Brass: “The politicians do not talk about professionalization of the police because control over police is at the centre of political conflict in a deeply and increasingly bitter divided society. The proverbial spoils of office in India include not only control over distribution of economic resources but control over distribution of protection and safety. As the political struggle becomes more bitter, so does the struggle for safety for oneself and one’s supporters.’’

Challenging Indian conditions  

Zuber Khan, a beat constable in Delhi’s Jamia Nagar area works for more than 14 hours a day, and that too without weekly offs. (A beat is a territory that a policeman patrols). He is stationed at a small police post (chowki) with not more than two or three policemen on duty. But, he most of the time alone mans the entry point to Jamia Nagar area from the New Friends Colony side. His area covers roughly about a square kilometer with a population of 45,000. Khan divides his time between manning the entry point and patrolling besides assisting the Jamia Nagar police station which, at times, deputes him to other special duties in other parts of the city.

On the face of it, the beat constable’s description of his enormous responsibility or his duty without breaks or weekly offs, seems to be a routine matter. But his admission is something which has been brought up in an official study conducted by the Ministry of Home Affairs in August 2014. The research ‘National Requirement of Manpower for 8-hours shift in police station’ conducted by retired IPS officer Kamal Kumar involved extensive field survey including as many as 12,156 police station staff, 1,003 SHOs and 962 supervisory police officers from 319 police districts in the country, spanning 23 States and two Union Territories. “It brings out that nearly 90% of police station staff, across the states and across various police station types, presently work for more than 8 hours a day. Further, according to more than 68% of SHOs and over 76% of supervisory officers, staff members of their police stations have to remain on duty for 11 hours or more per day. As many as 27.7% SHOs and 30.4% supervisory officers even reported that their staff worked for more than 14 hours a day,” the study said.13

“All this, in turn, takes a toll on the morale, motivation and self-esteem of staff. The overall frustration manifests itself in the offensive conduct and behavior with the public by many of them, which leads to erosion of societal image of the police and alienation of the public. Since public cooperation is an essential ingredient of effective policing, all this causes an enormous adverse impact on the quality of police service,” the government research report observed.14 The police force in India is also underperforming due to other factors besides politicization, which include low manpower, low self-esteem and deployment for VIP protection at the cost of common people.

According to the reply received in 2013 on an RTI query by activist, Vihar Durve, out of 48,969 policemen on duty in Mumbai, 27,740 are deployed for security of VIPs, which leaves only 20,000 cops for the security of over 2 crore residents of the city.15

12. http://bit.ly/1HoWYhP The Production of Hindu Muslim Violence; Page 376;  Paul Brass (Last visited on Nov. 24, 2015) 

13. http://bit.ly/1BaANIU  National Requirement of Manpower for 8-hours shift in police stations; Page v

14. http://bit.ly/1BaANIU National Requirement of Manpower for 8-hours shift in police stations; Page vi

15. http://bit.ly/1IceHco NDTV; Aug 24, 2013; Out of 48969 policemen in Mumbai, 27,740 are on VIP duty

In Delhi, where a gang-rape of a paramedical student named ‘Nirbhaya’ by an English daily shook the entire nation in December 2013, the VIPs enjoyed heavy protection at the cost of common people. There were 427 VIPs guarded by 5,183 police personnel, which made over a dozen guarding each of them.16

According to the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D), a wing of the Ministry of Home affairs, an understaffed and overworked police force is protecting VIPs, mostly politicians, while the country’s streets remain unsafe. The police personnel population ratio in India is 1: 761 according to the BPR&D figures, which means that as many as 47,557 cops protect 14,842 VIPs across the country or at least three police personnel protecting every VIP.  

Need to redefine accountability   

One of India’s known crusaders for police reforms and retired DGP, Prakash Singh, whose efforts led to Supreme Court’s landmark intervention, believes that the biggest challenge to police reform is to redefine accountability and insulate the force from any kind of external pressure, including political. In his view a policeman’s behavior towards common man will be ensured by police’s accountability but in actual practice the forces are accountable to the executive – the political establishment and the bureaucracy. In such a situation it is only natural that the police are only looking at the support and the approval of the bureaucracy and the politicians. ‘’The political class forced them to carry out their illegal orders. Such power - to punish the police officer, to transfer them, and to suspend, to control their promotions were retained by the Indian political class,’’ said Prakash Singh.

Why the system worked post-independence?   

Post-independence the system worked because the political class, police officers and the bureaucracy were full of passion to work for the country. “Great leaders and statesmen like Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Abul’ Kalam Azad, Rajagopalachari, Govind Ballabh Pant, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, K. Kamaraj, Roy and Sri Krishna Sinha provided an atmosphere of dignity and sense of direction for the civil services to function honestly and efficiently,’’ the second report of National Police Commission observed. 17

‘’The phenomenon of political interference appears to have assumed larger dimensions particularly after 1967 when the continued stability of some of elected government in some states got disturbed and a period of political instability started. Increased political interference in such context meant the increased division of police personnel into different cliques and groups with different political leanings,’’ it said. According to Prakash Singh, this attitude reached its zenith, when Congress led Indira Gandhi’s government imposed an emergency in the country in 1975-77 and police force on the orders of its political masters committed humongous atrocities on the people and the political opponents.

The brazen manner in which the police were misused during the emergency of 1975—77 to subvert lawful procedures and serve purely political ends is brought out in Chapter XV of the Interim Report II dated 26th April, 1978, given by the Shah Commission of Inquiry. “The decision to arrest and release certain persons were entirely on political considerations which were intended to be favorable to the ruling party (then Congress). Employing the police to the advantage of any political party is a sure source of subverting the rule of law. The Government must seriously consider the feasibility and the desirability of insulating the police from the politics of the country and employing it scrupulously on dudes for which alone it is by law intended,’’ the panel said. 18

16. http://bprd.nic.in/showfile.asp?lid=1047  Data on police organization; Ch 10, Page 115 (Last visited on Nov. 24, 2015)

17. http://bit.ly/1Q0nnE0  Page 33, Second Report of National Police Commission (Last visited on Nov. 24, 2015) 

18. http://bit.ly/1Q0nnE0 Page 42; Second National Police Commission Report (Last visited on Nov. 26, 2015)


The modern police system was created by the British rulers. Sir Charles Napier is known as the father of Indian police system. After Sindh was 'conquered', in 1843, Napier then governor of Bombay Presidency introduced a separate force for policing assignments which did not have any military and revenue functions. According to JY Umarinikar, IPS, the Indian police force “was modeled, not on the prevalent English system but on the Irish constabulary, which was more akin to an occupational force than a people oriented police.” 19  ”An opportunity to give the new nation a policing system to suit the democratic ethos of a welfare state was sacrificed on the altar of expediency,” writes Umarinikar in his book Police Reforms in India.20 The book was based on a research project conducted by the author for Yashwanrao Chavan Academy of Development and Administration, Pune. Says Umarinikar, “The outcome could be seen and experienced every day. Popular alienation and judicial distrust are sapping the vitality of the police while the archaic laws and Oedipal fascination with militarism, prevent the police force from becoming a modern service provider rather than a reactive law enforcing agency.”

Indian Police Act: 1861

The current force is governed largely by 1861 Indian Police Act that was a culmination of political developments of 1857 that nearly removed the British from helm of affairs in India. The result was Government of India Act 1858 that not only transferred power from the East India Company to the British Crown, but called for new mechanisms to check such rebellious tendencies that would challenge the British authority in future. The brutal Police Act 1861, that still is a guide for our forces, could be seen in this context.  Thus the role assigned to the police in 1861 (the year the act was enacted) was of different nature from the contemporary times. Many states have enacted their own versions of the Police Act since independence but the basic structure remains largely unchanged. The government failed to implement the recommendations of the expert panels, prompting non-governmental actors to pitch in 1990s by building up pressure through judicial interventions.

Indian Police Commission: 1902  

After running the Indian administration for over 40 years based on the statutes of Indian Police Act 1861, the British government in India felt the need for certain changes in the functioning of the police. It appointed a commission under the chairmanship of AHL Fraser to examine the system and suggest changes during the tenure of Viceroy Lord Curzon (1899-1905). Curzon is known for partitioning Bengal into East (Muslim dominated) and West (Hindu dominated) apparently under Divide and Rule policy to break the backbone of the national movement. The move prompted popular protest against him.

The Fraser panel suggested many measures, but it certainly failed or deliberately ignored certain provisions of the 1861 Act (that were supposed to be rectified) that was “essential” to command suzerainty of the Indian population towards the British rule. Thus the colonial system of policing was allowed to exist for obvious reasons. In its report the Fraser panel made some interesting observations on the police force. “The Police is far from efficient, it is defective in training and organization, it is inadequately supervised, it is generally regarded as corrupt and oppressive and it has utterly failed to secure the confidence and cordial cooperation of the people,” said AHL Fraser21. The words ring true even today, over 150 years later.

19. Police Reforms in India; U mranikar; pp29 (Last visited on Nov. 24, 2015)

20. http://bit.ly/1jkVZ6O Police Reforms in India; JY Umranikar; pp21 (Last visited on Nov. 24, 2015)

21. http://bit.ly/1Q0oJyy  Myths and Realities of Police Reforms in India; Indian Police Journal; pp4 (Last visited on Nov. 26, 2015)

Development of intelligence system to spy on Indian revolutionaries: The basic structure of Indian intelligence was developed during the governor generalship of Lord Curzon. Department of Criminal Intelligence (DCI) was set up in 1904 under the central government following the Police Commission Report 1902-03, and remained the most important such organization till 1947.  At the provincial level CID (Criminal Investigations Department) emerged in all the provinces of British India. “In the period 19071917 the Raj faced serious threat from Indian revolutionaries; this threat was a major stimulus to the growth of British Intelligence operations on a global level,” writes Richard J Poppelwell in his book Intelligence and Imperial Defence (British Intelligence and the Defence of the Indian Empire 1904-24). “In the period 1914-16 it appeared to the British that the main threat to the continuance of their rule in India came from terrorists (read freedom fighters) whose activities were centered on bases both within the subcontinent and in many parts of the world,” Poppelwell added.22

This intelligence infrastructure was used by the British government in later years to keep tabs on the Indian national movement.

State Police Commissions: 1960s

During early 1960’s when the government and policy makers realized that the country’s police force is not performing at a desirable level, various state governments appointed police commissions to examine the problem and suggest measures to improve on the functioning of the force.

Gore Committee on Police Training: 1971

Amid continuing pressure for police reforms, the central government on November 10, 1971 constituted a committee, known as Gore Committee of Police Training. Its chairman was former TISS director social scientist Prof MS Gore, while its vice-chairman was former IB official MML Hooja. The mandate of the Gore Committee was to suggest objectives that should govern arrangements for training of police officers, point out shortcoming and drawbacks. The Gore panel suggested revolutionary changes in police training methods. It suggested that police force, besides training for maintenance of law and order and crime prevention should develop sensitivity for understanding human behavior. It should also develop right attitudes for promotion of service oriented activities. 

National Police Commission: 1977-81

On November 15, 1977, the new Janata Party led central government appointed National Police Commission with retired governor DharamVira as Chairman. Its members were retired Madras HC judge NK Reddy, Ex-BSF DG KF Rustamjee and Prof MS Gore among others. This was by far the most important effort for police reform. Its second report clearly mentioned the need to insulate the police from external pressure and check its politicization.  It reviewed the working of the country’s national level police system taking into account far reaching changes that had taken place in the country after the Indian Police Act 1861, Indian Police Commission report 1902 and various reform initiatives taken after independence. The commission was asked to recommend institutional measures to “prevent misuse of power by the police” and “misuse of police by administrative or executive instructions, political or other pressure, or oral orders of any type, which are contrary to law”. It’s fairly wide terms of reference involved the police’s fresh examination as an institution that performs the work of a law enforcement agency and an institution that protects the rights of its citizens. The NPC submitted eight reports between February 1979 and May 1981. It is common knowledge that widespread excesses were committed by the then government of Mrs Indira Gandhi with the help of the police and para military forces.

22. http://bit.ly/1Ot4Cay  Intelligence and Imperial Defence; Richard J Poppelwell ; Page 1(Last visited on Nov. 24, 2015) 

23. http://bit.ly/1QIMk8q Police Reforms in India – A Historical Perspective; Prakash Singh (Last visited on Nov. 24, 2015)

How the recommendations were derailed?

The very existence of the commission came under threat when Mrs Indira Gandhi returned to power in January 1980. By the time its first two reports had finished, Janata government, which had appointed the body, was voted out of power. Secondly, the commission had quoted from the Shah Commission report which criticized the Emergency excesses committed by the Congress government. The panel’s member secretary was CV Narsimhan, who was CBI’s chief, when the agency had arrested Indira Gandhi. Thus, he was removed from duty on April 19, 1980, and for the reasons mentioned above, the panel was folded up in May 1981.   In March 1983, the remaining seven reports - from second to eighth reports were released (the first one was released by the Janata Government in 1979). In the first report, the NPC had recommended radical changes in the working of the constables, who constitute more than 85% of the force. It suggested that constables should be properly trained to exercise discretion and judgment during duties. It also called for internal grievance redress mechanism. The second report of the commission expressed grave concern on the misuse of police by illegal or improper orders or pressure from political executives or other extraneous sources. It recommended the setting up of a statutory body called the ‘State Security Commission’ in each state and also that the chief of police should be assured of a minimum prescribed tenure.24

The third report asked for giving full powers to SPs in the postings of SHOs, inspectors and constables while the SPs’ transfer and posting be the exclusive prerogative of the DGP. The fourth report dealt with the issue of coordinating the functioning of the investigating staff with the prosecuting agency. It suggested reforms in procedural laws with a view to facilitating judicious conduct of investigations.25 On the subject of enforcement of social legislation, the Commission laid down the parameters of police involvement. The fifth report dealt with the recruitment of constables and sub-inspectors and laid emphasis on their proper training. The sixth report recommended police commissionerates in large cities with a population of 5 lakhs so as to make policing efficient. It also suggested measures on how to handle communal riots. The seventh report dealt with the internal management of the police force. It suggested that this should be entirely under the purview of the SP. The eighth report pitched for arming the State Security Commission the power to evaluate police performance in both qualitative and quantitative terms.

Indira Gandhi govt rejects major recommendations of the NPC

When the central government shared the report with the state governments, they were informed that “at some places” in the 2nd report, the commission has cited from the Shah Commission report to come to conclusions.  “Government strongly repudiate all such conclusions,” the remark said, adding that the “Commission has been unduly critical of the political system or of the functioning of the police force in general. Such general criticism is hardly in keeping with an objective and rational approach to problems and reveals a biased attitude. The government was of the view that no note should be taken of such observations”.26 The advisory was a clear direction to the state governments to put the suggestions about police reform in cold storage. The NPC had pitched for insulating the police force from illegitimate political and bureaucratic interference which was unpalatable for the entrenched interests.

Prakash Singh and others approach the Supreme Court : 1996

Two former DGPs Prakash Singh and NK Singh, with Common Cause, filed a PIL in the apex court for implementation of the recommendations of the National Police Commission. The petition argued that “the present distortions and aberrations in the functioning of the police have their roots in the colonial past, the structure and organization of the police which have remained basically unchanged during the

24. http://bit.ly/1QIMk8q  Police Reforms in India  – A Historical Perspective; Prakash Singh (Last visited on Nov. 24, 2015) 

25. http://bit.ly/1QIMk8q Police Reforms in India – A Historical Perspective; Prakash Singh (Last visited on Nov. 24, 2015)

last nearly 135 years, and the complete subordination of the police to the executive – an arrangement which was designed originally to protect the interests of the British Raj but which unfortunately continues to this day”. The PIL sought to draw the attention of the court on following broad issues including frequent postings and transfers, political recommendations in police recruitment and usage of intelligence for political purposes.

Letter of the Union Home Minister to state governments: 1997

The key suggestions of NPC were never implemented, prompting the then union Home Minister Indrajit Gupta to write a letter on April 3, 1997, to State chief ministers asking them to look into the issue of police reforms.  Gupta asked the chief ministers to “rise above any narrow and partisan considerations to insulate the police from the growing tendency of partisan or political interference in the discharge of its lawful functions…” The then union home minister, whonever got any response from any state, further warned that if the executive fails to take any action on the issue, it will pave the way “when the judiciary would intervene decisively to force such socially desirable changes down the throat of the political executives”. Even his party ruled West Bengal (then ruled by Left front) sat on his letter.

The Riberio Committee on Police Reforms: 1998

The apex court set up Ribeiro Committee, headed by former DGP Julio F Ribeiro, while it was deliberating over the Public Interest Litigation filed for police reforms. The Court wanted the Committee to examine if the National Police Commission’s recommendations, which formed the core of the PIL (1996), were still relevant or that it needed any other modifications.

Padmanabhaiah Committee: 2000

The central government set up yet another committee on Police Reforms in January 2000 with former Union Home Secretary K Padmanabhaiah as Chairman. The committee was given the mandate to examine and point out the challenge that police face in contemporary times, gaps between police response and public expectation, rural police and hi-tech criminals. It was also given the mandate “to devise methods of insulating the police from politicization and criminalization”. The panel said that “Lack of a proper tenure policy for posting of officers at different levels and arbitrary transfers have been used by politicians to control and abuse the police for their own ends.” To deal with this problem the panel pitched for fixation of two years of tenure for officials besides setting up police establishment board to decide transfer and posting of personnel up to the post of Deputy SP. It also suggested for establishment of “a body headed by the Chief Justice of the State High court as Chairman, State Chief Secretary and an eminent public person as members to recommend a panel of two names for appointment to the post of the Director General of Police.” Commenting on the menace of VIP security it said that “The concept of VIP security has been grossly, blatantly and brazenly misused. The entire concept of personal security needs a careful review and dismantling.”27

Malimath Committee: 2003

The Committee, headed by Justice V.S. Malimath, former Chief Justice of the Karnataka and Kerala High Courts, had the task of examining the fundamental principles of criminal law so as to “restore confidence” in the criminal justice system. This involved reviewing the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1973, the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, and the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860.28 The panel began work in November 2000 and submitted its report on April 21, 2003. The Malimath panel had suggested significant changes in the Criminal Procedure Code to expedite the disposal of cases and in the Evidence Act to facilitate securing of convictions.

26. http://bit.ly/1Ne6Yeo The National Police Commissions; CHRI (Last visited on Nov. 24, 2015) 

27. http://bit.ly/1R7OMEU Summary of Recommendations made by Padmanabhaiah Committee on Police Reforms; Human Right Initiative  (Last visited on Nov. 24, 2015)

The Police Act Drafting Committee submits its Model Police Act : 2006

The central government on October 2005 set up a “Police Act Drafting Committee” (PADC). It was also known as the Soli Sorabjee Committee which was tasked to draft a new model Police Act. The panel was given the mandate to give suggestions on the changing role of the police and assess the challenges before it, which was meant to work as a reference book for the States, when they would come out with their own legislation.

The PADC submitted the model police act to the central government on October 30, 2006. The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) expressed concern about certain provisions in the Model Police Act. In a letter CHRI said that in Chapter 9 large parts of which are in the nature of an emergency law, has no place in a Police Act. “Similarly, CHRI is of the view that the police should not have powers to remove people from their homes and cities, thus interfering with their fundamental rights. The judiciary alone should exercise such powers. Furthermore, definitions of certain words including terrorist activity, militant activities, insurgency and the like should be precise and narrow without any scope for abuse,” CHRI told Member Secretary PADC in a letter.29

The Supreme Court intervenes: 2006

The writ petition of Prakash Singh and others was heard by the Supreme Court over a period of 10 years. Taking into account “the gravity of the problem” and “the urgent need for preservation and strengthening of Rule of Law… we think that there cannot be any further wait, and the stage has come for issue of appropriate directions for immediate compliance so as to be operative till such time a new model Police Act is prepared by the Central Government and/or the State Governments pass the requisite legislations,” the apex court said.

It laid down seven directives for the states to kick-start police reforms. The Supreme Court exuded “hope that all State Governments would rise to the occasion and enact a new Police Act wholly insulating the police from any pressure whatsoever, thereby placing in position an important measure for securing the rights of the citizens under the Constitution”.

“It was forcefully argued (before the Supreme Court) during the pendency of the petition that the continuance of the colonial pattern of policing had contributed to disasters at the national level. In 1984, there were anti –Sikh riots in Delhi in which about 3,000 persons were killed. The Delhi Police, barring some honourable exceptions, remained a mute spectator to the carnage because the rioters were instigated by politicians of the ruling party,” said Prakash Singh.

In 1992, the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya was demolished despite the presence of state police forces and the formidable presence of central paramilitary forces. These forces were immobilized because the political masters were not keen on preventing the karsevaks (volunteers) from vandalising the mosque, the petitioners argued before the apex court.

In 2002, during the riots in Gujarat, the politicians played a dubious role and are alleged to have instigated the rioters at certain places. Police officers who tried to uphold the rule of law were punished by the executive. The National Human Rights Commission recorded that “there was a comprehensive failure of the State to protect the constitutional rights of the people of Gujarat”, they said.30

Seven directives issued by the apex court

The Supreme Court in a landmark judgment on September 22, 2006, issued seven directives, to kick-start police reform. The move aimed at insulating the police from extraneous influences, giving it

28. http://bit.ly/1IcgVZt Rights and Criminal Justice; Frontline; Aug30-Sept12, 2003 (Last visited on Nov. 26, 2015) 

29. http://bit.ly/1T6o3ac Letter of CHRI to member-secretary PADC (Last visited on Nov. 24, 2015)

30. http://bit.ly/1QIMk8q History of Police Reforms – A Historical Perspective  (Last visited on Nov. 24, 2015)

functional autonomy and ensuring its accountability. The seven directives included orders regarding setting up of three institutions - SSC (State Security Commissions, PEB (Police Establishment Board) and PCA (Police Complaints Authority) at the state level with a view to insulate the police from extraneous influences.

1. Constitution of State Security Commission (SSC): The apex court pitched for creation of SSCs to ensure that the state governments do not exercise unwarranted influence or pressure on the police. The panel should be “able to function independent of government control”. It aimed at insulating police from external pressure. It envisaged that the executive will have power to appoint only 50 per cent of the members. This watchdog body was supposed to lay down policy matters and act as a buffer between the police force and the executive.

2. DGP appointment through transparent merit based process

It was suggested that a UPSC panel will shortlist three names to be sent to the Chief Minister or state government which can then chose any one among them as the next state police chief. The apex court also called for fixing the tenure of DGP for at least two years.

3. Fixation of tenure for SPs and SHOs

It was suggested that the police officials on operational assignments should have fixed tenure for at least two years. Officers like SHO, SP, DIG and IG too should have fixed tenure so that policing is not hampered.

4. Separation of investigation and law and order functions

The apex court called for complete separation of investigation and law and order functions of the police force. This is one of the major factors that seriously hampers the efficiency of the force as same set of officers are engaged in both kind of duties.

5. Setting up Police Establishment Board (PEB): The court also asked for establishment of PEB to take care of transfers, postings and promotions related issues of police officers at the district level. The PEB will decide on transfers and postings of constables, inspectors, SHOs and Deputy SPs. For the posting and transfer of senior officers – SP, IG and DIG this panel will send recommendations to the government, which it can accept or reject.

6. Setting up of Police Complaints Authority (PCA): The PCA will investigate into public complaints against police officers for misconducts like rape, death in custody and graft charges. The police complaints authority will be two-tier - at district level as well as state level. Complaints till deputy SP will be handled by the district level panel, while complaints of misconduct against SP and above will be addressed by the state level panel.

7. Setting up a National Security Commission (NSC): The court directed for creationof a panel for selection and placement of Chiefs of the Central Police Organisations (CPO) like CISF and CRPF with a minimum tenure of two years.

States reluctant to implement the directives

The seven directives were supposed to be implemented by December 31, 2007. Eight states Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh had filed review petitions before the apex court. These were dismissed on August 23, 2007. The

31. http://bit.ly/1QIMk8q  Police Reforms in India – A Historical Prakash Singh (Last visited on Nov. 24, 2015)

32. http://bit.ly/1NdVg3s Status of Compliance of Supreme Court Directions (As on March 31, 2014)

petitioner filed a contempt petition against Gujarat, Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir, Tamil Nadu and UP in the apex court but the SC showed unwillingness to issue contempt notices.

The apex court on May 17, 2008 made a monitoring committee under Justice KT Thomas to oversee the implementation of its directives in the states and UTs. It was also given the task to study the legislations enacted by states to see if they had abided by the directives in letter and spirit. Thomas committee informed the apex court in August 2010 that “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”.

Union government also non-committal on police reform

Though police and policing is a state subject the union government too showed reluctance to implement police reform. The panel headed by Mr Soli Sorabjee, a former Attorney General was asked to draft a Model Police Act by the union government as mentioned above. The Committee broadly followed the pattern already recommended by the Supreme Court. The Government of India gave assurances on the floor of the parliament that a Model Police Act on the lines of Sorabjee Committee’s recommendations would be tabled in the near future, but the promise has not been kept so far.31 If the union government was keen, it would have simply implemented the directives and Soli Sorabjee panel report in UTs like Delhi, Chandigarh, Lakshadweep, Puducherry, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu, and Andaman and Nicobar which were directly under its command and then asking the states to follow.

Current Status

Following the directives of the apex court, 15 states - Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Punjab, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Tripura and Uttrakhand) have drafted new laws. But experts point out that these laws have been made in ways to circumvent the directives of the apex court. Other states too have delayed the adoption of apex court directives. Some states have set up state security commissions, police establishment boards and complaints authority but did not give enough powers to them by altering the composition to suit their vested interest.32 Many states are not consulting the UPSC in the appointment of DGPs. Even the fixed tenure directives are not being followed. Policemen on operational duties are transferred arbitrarily. On the other hand, the union government is yet to pass a Model Police Bill.


Both, the central and state governments have failed to show any urgency for police reforms despite specific directions issued from the apex court. The Constitution has placed police in the State List under Seventh Schedule. The central government could have enacted a police act on the basis of Model Police Act of Soli Sorabjee panel. Then under Article 252 of the Constitution it could have asked the states to carry out similar legislation, which in the words of Prakash Singh “would have ensured a fair measure of uniformity in the Police Acts of a number of states”. The central government still continues to be indifferent towards reforms. Some experts have suggested that police should be brought into the Concurrent List from State List. But some oppose it on the ground that it would amount to a violation of the federal spirit of the Constitution. None of the political parties are ready for police reforms as that would free the forces from their control. To escape the apex court's directives which would have led to freeing police from external pressure, the states committed “intellectual dishonesty’’. At least 17 states passed new police acts virtually retaining everything from the old provisions.

*Shakeb Ayaz is a Research Officer-cum-Asst. Editor in Common Cause

Volume: Vol. XXXIV No. 3
July- Sep, 2015