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Police Reforms in India

  • Category
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    12th Nov, 2018

Ever since the constitution of the National Police Commission about 40 years ago, there had been talks of police reforms but the situation on the ground defies change.



  • Ever since the constitution of the National Police Commission about 40 years ago, there had been talks of police reforms but the situation on the ground defies change.
  • Criminals continue to shock society with their daring heinous crimes. On the other hand, the common man expects to secure speedy and inexpensive justice. It is precisely because of this there is an urgent need for reforms in the criminal justice system in India.


  • Both pre and post-independence, a number of committees and commissions have been appointed and have deliberated upon various aspects of streamlining the effectiveness of police governance in the country.


  • First Police Commission was set up soon after the 1857 Mutiny to deliberate upon the regulatory framework for police in the country. Set up in 1860, the recommendations of this Commission resulted in the enactment of the Police Act of 1861-a law that still governs police.
  • A review of the issues arising from the implementation of the Police Act of 1861 was done in 1902, through the setting up of the Second Police Commission. The Commission came out with a detailed report covering various aspects relating to the organization of police force, adequacy of training, strength, pay, investigating offences, etc.


  • After independence, the first Police Reforms Committee was set up by Kerala in 1959. This was followed by a succession of Police Commissions appointed by different State Governments mainly during sixties and seventies (West Bengal in 1960-61, Punjab in 1961-62, Delhi in 1968, Tamil Nadu in 1971 to name a few). At the Central Government level, a Working Group on Police by the Administrative Reforms Commission was set up in 1966.
  • This was followed by the setting up of the Gore Committee on Police Training in 1971 and subsequently the National Police Commission which, between 1977-1981, submitted 8 reports suggesting wide ranging reforms in the existing police set-up and also a Model Police Act. None of the major recommendations by the National Police Commission were adopted by any government.
  • This persuaded two former Director General of Police (DGPs) in 1996 to file a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court (Prakash Singh Vs. Union of India) asking the Court to direct governments to implement the NPC recommendations. In the course of the 10 year long case, in 1998 the Court set up the Ribeiro Committee to review action taken to implement the recommendations of the NPC.
  • While the matter was underway in the SC, in 2000, the Ministry of Home Affairs set up the Padmanabhaiah Committee to examine the requirements of policing in the new millennium.
  • Subsequently, the Malimath Committee on reforms of Criminal Justice Systemin India was set up in 2003.


Police in India

  • Under the Constitution of India, Police and Public order are state subjects under the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution. As a result, all states have their individual police laws. Also, Article 355 of the Constitution enjoins upon the Union to protect every state against external aggression and internal disturbance. It also imposes the duty upon the Union Government to ensure that that government of every state is carried on in accordance with the Constitutional provisions.
  • Legally, the Police Act, 1861 is still the basic instrument governing the functioning of the Indian Police. Besides the Indian Penal Code, 1862, the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 and the Criminal Procedure Code of 1973 also govern the functioning of the police.
  • India’s police force is divided into two categories: Civil Police and Armed Police. Civil Police is designated for maintaining law and order, prevention and detection of crime and law enforcement. Armed Police, on the other hand, are seen during natural disasters or riots/civil unrest.


Major issues with Police in India

  • Huge vacancies: With the phenomenal expansion of the geographic area to be policed and the increase in the number of lives to be guarded, the Indian police, more than in many western democracies, have been stretched and outnumbered. There are only about 140 policemen per 100,000 people, a very poor ratio when compared to other modern democracies.
  • Over-burden: Police force is over-burdened especially at lower levels where constabulary is forced to work continuously for 14-16 hours, 7 days a week. It adversely impacts their performance.
  • Arduous nature of duties and working conditions: The nature of the duties is very uncertain and the police itself say that policemen are on duty all the time – it’s a violation of Human Rights.
  • Risk to life: The risk to life in Police is very high. Policemen are killed in India in the performance of duties than in any other country of the world. There’s no indication that in future the risk element would be less.
  • Police Infrastructure:The weaponry, vehicles etc. used by police force at lower level is obsolete and is unmatched with the modern weaponry used by the criminals and anti-social elements.
  • Qualifications and training of police personnels: Police training methods have been out dated and aspects of human rights are largely ignored in training modules. Training of police officials is heavily biased in favour of higher level officials. 94% of the total training expenditure is on IPS officers’ training.
  • Politicization of Police: Politicization of a police force is a major problem as it affects the autonomy of police force making them to subserve the interests of political executive at the cost of ordinary citizens. CID at the state level has failed to perform because of political cases led by the ruling parties against their opponents and because of excessive political interference by political executive.
  • Lack of co-ordination between centre and states is a matter related to maintenance of law & order results in ineffective functioning of police force. The dual command at district and state levels have resulted in the problem of co-ordination between the civil servants and police officials because of ego clashes and inconceivable personal differences.
  • Criminalization of politics and politicization of crime have aggravated the problems of police force as they are not in a position to curb the crime in effective manner.
  • Ineffectiveness against new forms of crimes: Police force is not in the position to tackle present days’ problems of cyber-crimes, global terrorism, naxalism because of its structural weaknesses.
  • Aversion towards usage of technology among police personnel
  • Judicial reforms have not been effective as most of the criminals are not punished for the crime they committed. Inspite of recommendations of various commissions’, crime investigation has not been separated from maintenance of law & order.
  • Underutilisation of funds for modernisation: Both centre and states allocate funds for modernisation of state police forces. These funds are typically used for strengthening police infrastructure, by way of construction of police stations, purchase of weaponry, communication equipment and vehicles. However, there has been a persistent problem of underutilisation of modernisation funds.
  • Prevailing Corruption: The pay scales of police personnel especially at the lower levels are very low and they are forced to adopt corrupt means to earn their livelihood. Prevalence of Rank system within the police force results in abuse of power by top level executive over lower level personnel.

Examples of community policing in India

JanamaithriSuraksha in Kerala: This project is an initiative of the Kerala Police to facilitate greater accessibility, close interaction and better understanding between the police and local communities. For example, Beat Constables are required to know at least one family member of every family living in his beat area, and allocate some time to meet with people outside the police station every week. JanamaithriSuraksha Committees are also formed with municipal councillors, representatives of residents’ associations, local media, high schools and colleges, retired police officers, etc. to facilitate the process.

MeiraPaibi (Torch-bearers) in Assam: The women of the Manipuri Basti in Guwahati help with improving the law and order problem in their area, by tackling drug abuse among the youth. They light their torches and go around the basti guarding the entry and exit points, to prevent the youth of the area from going out after sunset.

Reforms required for SMART Police:

  • Improvement in capacity and infrastructure of police forces: Boosting infrastructure and capacity of the police forces includes increase in the number of police personnel in the country, improvement in recruitment, training and service conditions including up-gradation on one hand and improving the infrastructure, working hours, housing facilities on the other.
  • Revisiting the constitution of police forces in the country through legislative/administrative changes: The legislative changes include, enactment of the organized Crimes Act, a single police act for the country, moving Police to the Concurrent List, declaration of Federal Crimes, measures regarding registration of crimes, statutory backing for the CBI, Commissionerate system for large areas, revival and strengthening of the beat constable system and some changes in criminal procedure and evidence systems.
  • In addition to the legislative changes, there is an urgent need for administrative reforms as well. On the administrative side, changes include separation of investigation from law and order, specialized wings for Social and Cyber Crimes, restricting the police to core functions, setting up authorities as directed by the Supreme Court, strengthening state machinery and linking prosecution with police.
  • Technological scaling-up: The police force needs to keep pace with changing times. Modernization of the force has become inevitable especially in cyber security, counter-terrorism/insurgency and relying on technology for policing. Technological reforms includes modernization of the control room, fast tracking the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and System (CCTNS) pushing for National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) and pushing for incorporation of new technology into policing.

PM Modi, at the Guwahati Conference of the Directors of General Police in 2014, enunciated the concept of SMART Police i.e. a police which should be sensitive, mobile, alert, reliable and techno-savvy.

Other reforms needed

  • A number of glaring malpractices, including the one of fake encounters, are clear manifestations of the lack of confidence in the existing system, even at the level of senior police functionaries themselves.
  • Separation of investigation from law and order while also revising the basic police procedures.
  • Delinking of arrestability from the cognizability of an offence. To some extent, this should take care of a large number of cases where the facts are deliberately stretched to make a non-cognizable offence into a cognizable one.
  • There are several other police procedures of investigation including recording of statements, confessions, etc. which have now become outdated, considering that they were codified in 1898. The Code of Criminal Procedure was amended in 1973, but the police procedures did not undergo much change.
  • In order to ensure greater accountability, for example, the refusal to register a complaint regarding the commission of a crime can be made a punishable offence for the police.
  • In the courts, the trial procedures need to be simplified. The separate nature of the burden of proof required for crimes against the human body and property or social welfare-related offences needs to be recognised. The same goes for economic crimes and cyber-crimes besides terrorism-related offences.

Directions of the Supreme Court in Prakash Singh vs Union of India

In 1996, a petition was filed before the Supreme which stated that the police abuse and misuse their powers. It alleged non-enforcement and discriminatory application of laws in favour of persons with clout, and also raised instances of unauthorised detentions, torture, harassment, etc. against ordinary citizens. The petition asked the court to issue directions for implementation of recommendations of expert committees. In September 2006, the court issued various directions to the centre and states including:

  • Constitute a State Security Commission in every state that will lay down policy for police functioning, evaluate police performance, and ensure that state governments do not exercise unwarranted influence on the police.
  • Constitute a Police Establishment Board in every state that will decide postings, transfers and promotions for officers below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police, and make recommendations to the state government for officers of higher ranks.
  • Constitute Police Complaints Authorities at the state and district levels to inquire into allegations of serious misconduct and abuse of power by police personnel.
  • Provide a minimum tenure of at least two years for the DGP and other key police officers (e.g., officers in charge of a police station and district) within the state forces, and the Chiefs of the central forces to protect them against arbitrary transfers and postings.
  • Ensure that the DGP of state police is appointed from amongst three senior-most officers who have been empanelled for the promotion by the Union Public Service Commission on the basis of length of service, good record and experience.
  • Separate the investigating police from the law and order police to ensure speedier investigation, better expertise and improved rapport with the people.
  • Constitute a National Security Commission to shortlist the candidates for appointment as Chiefs of the central armed police forces.

Way Forward

  • Since the police is a vital part of our criminal justice system, it is necessary to institute a wider spectrum of reforms rather than focusing simply on police reforms.
  • The thrust of the existing directives of the Supreme Court is limited to postings, transfers, personnel, policies, creation of security commissions at the state and the national levels, the separation of investigation from law and order, and, the constitution of a police complaints authority at various levels. A closer look at all these recommendations reveals that none of them would be able to address the expectations of the general public for a speedy and inexpensive justice delivery system. As such, these reforms can be taken to be only the first step towards the larger goal of reforming the entire criminal justice system.

Learning Aid

Practice Question

“Police reforms have been a talking point for years in India but remain a non-starter.” Discuss the major issues in Indian Criminal Justice system. Also, discuss the reforms required for SMART policing in India.


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