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Topical Analysis: POLICE REFORMS

  • Published
    9th Jul, 2022

Significance of the Topic:

The Standing Committee on Home Affairs (Chair: Mr. Anand Sharma) presented its report on ‘Police - Training, Modernisation and Reforms’ on February 10, 2022.  In the past four decades, several commissions have been set up to examine police reforms.   These include the National Police Commission (1977, Chair: Mr. Dharma Vira), the Committee on Reforms of Criminal Justice System (2003, Chair: Dr. V.S Malimath), and the Committee on Restructuring of Police (2000, Chair: Mr. K. Padmanabhaiah).  In addition, the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) has also made several recommendations in the past to improve the policing system. 

Hereby discussing the lacunas in the police system and recommendations by different committees.

Public order implies the absence of disturbance, riot, revolt, unruliness and lawlessness. Irrespective of the nature of a polity – democratic or autocratic, federal or unitary – maintenance of public order is universally recognised as the prime function of the State.

State agencies such as the administration, police and the criminal justice system have the direct responsibility and the commensurate authority to maintain public order but non-State players – political parties, media and citizens’ groups - also have a vital bearing on public order.

  • Each state and Union Territory has its own separate police force. Article 246 of the Constitution designates the police as a state subject thereby meaning that state governments frame the Police Acts, rules, and regulations that govern each police force.
  • Centre is also allowed to maintain its own police forces to assist the states with ensuring law and order. Therefore, it maintains seven central police forces and some other police organizations for specialized tasks such as intelligence gathering, investigation, research and record-keeping, and training.
  • The primary role of police forces is to uphold and enforce laws, investigate crimes and ensure security for people in the country. In a large and populous country like India, police forces need to be well-equipped, in terms of personnel, weaponry, forensic, communication and transport support, to perform their role well.  Further, they need to have the operational freedom to carry out their responsibilities professionally, and satisfactory working conditions (e.g., regulated working hours and promotion opportunities), while being held accountable for poor performance or misuse of power.
  • Lord Cornwallis (1786-93) introduced reforms in police department.
  • The districts were divided into small thanas and an Inspector was appointed in each thana. A superior officer with the designation of superintendent of police was appointed in each district to supervise the work of the Inspectors. He raised the salaries of all police officers. He separated the judiciary from executive as a result equal justice could be dispensed to all the people.
  • The Police Act-1861, remains the central piece of legislation that governs all aspects of policing in India. It is a British legacy which our legislators find hard to cast off. 1861 Act came immediately after 1857 mutiny solely to perpetuate and consolidate British Rule and to keep a check on such civilian upsurge.
  • However, to start with, Charles Napier, then Governor of Punjab was the one who felt the need of civilian policing system in 1843.
  • Before setting up the police organization, he had two models in his mind-London policing system and Irish Constabulary system. The first one was based on the philosophy that police is public and public is police whereas Irish system was meant to exercise a coercive control and perpetuate exploitation.
  • The Irish system was dovetailed with the Indian requirement. This system was later emulated in other provinces also but it gained a pan India face only after the introduction of umbrella Police Act-1861.
  • It carries certain characteristics to the disadvantage of the common public: search, seizure and arrest at discretion, distancing and grandeur, authoritarianism, brutality, feudal attitude etc. Among others, IPC, CrPC, Indian Evidence Act-1872 also help in much of the policing function.
  • The Constitution provides for a legislative and executive division of powers between centre and states. The responsibilities of the state and central police forces are different. State police forces are primarily in charge of local issues such as crime prevention and investigation, and maintaining law and order. While they also provide the first response in case of more intense internal security challenges (e.g., terrorist incident or insurgency-related violence), the central forces are specialised in dealing with such conflicts.  The centre is responsible for policing in the union territories. It also extends intelligence and financial support to the state police forces.

There are a number of structural issues that have been raised by experts over the years related to police forces.  We discuss a few of these below.

(i) Overburdened police force

Apart from the core function of maintaining law and order, police personnel carry out various other functions such as traffic management, disaster rescue and removal of encroachments.  The Second Administrative Reforms Commission (2007) has noted that these extra obligations lead to overburdening of the police force.  It recommended that these functions should be carried out by other government departments or private agencies. Note that as of January 2016, 24 per cent of sanctioned police posts in India were vacant. This indicates that police personnel may be overburdened, which may have negative consequences on their efficiency and performance.

(ii) Poor quality of investigation

In 2015, the conviction rate for crimes recorded under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 was only 47%. The Law Commission (2012) observed that one of the reasons for low conviction rates in India is poor quality of investigation by police. The police lack training and expertise required to conduct professional investigations.  They also have insufficient legal knowledge and inadequate forensic and cyber infrastructure.  In light of these deficiencies, the Second Administrative Reforms Commission (2007) recommended that states should have specialised investigation units within the police force for better investigation of crimes.

(iii) Police accountability

In India, control over the police force vests with the political executive. The Second Administrative Reforms Commission (2007) noted that this has to led to abuse of police personnel and interference with their decision-making authority. To allow the police operational autonomy while maintaining accountability, the Supreme Court issued guidelines to the central government and state governments (and Union Territories) in the year 2006.

The guidelines provided for the establishment of three institutions: (i) a State Security Commission, (ii) a Police Establishment Board, and (iii) a Police Complaints Authority. The Supreme Court also stated that the state Director General of Police (DGP) should be selected from three senior-most officers of the state empanelled by the Union Public Service Commission and must have a minimum two-year tenure.

In addition, the court recommended that officers in key positions in the field (Inspector General in charge of Range, Station House Officer) must be given a two-year tenure. Currently, DGPs and senior officers are selected by the political executive of the state and are not guaranteed security of tenure.  In order to improve the quality of investigation, the Court recommended that investigating police must be separated from law and order police.

These guidelines and recommendations of other expert bodies were used to create the draft Model Police Bill, 2015 by BPR&D, which states have been encouraged to adopt.  While states have partially implemented some of these guidelines, no state has adhered to them in full. In most states, the three institutions which the Supreme Court has directed states to create have not been given the authority they need to ensure accountability and insulate the police force from political misuse.

Model Police Act, 2006

  • Organisation and recruitment: Each state will have one police service, which shall be headed by the DGP. Direct recruitments to subordinate ranks (i.e. below Deputy SP) will be made through a state level Police Recruitment Board. Recruitment to officers’ ranks will be through the Union Public Service Commission or State Public Service Commission.
  • Responsibilities: The responsibilities of the police serve will include: (i) enforcing the law impartially, and protecting life, liberty and human rights, (ii) preserving public order, and preventing terrorist, militant and other activities affecting internal security, (iii) protecting public properties, (iv) preventing and investigating crimes, (v) providing help in natural or man-made disasters, (vi) collecting intelligence, etc. In police stations in urban areas and crime prone rural areas, investigation of heinous and economic crimes (e.g., murder, serious cases of cheating) will be carried out by a Special Crime Investigation Unit, headed by an officer at least of the rank of a Sub-Inspector. Officers of these units will generally not be diverted for any other duty.
  • Accountability: The state government will exercise superintendence over the police service. This will include laying down policies and guidelines, setting standards for quality policing, and ensuring that the police perform their duties in a professional manner. State Police Boards will be constituted in each state to frame guidelines, select officers who are qualified to be promoted to rank of DGP, and evaluate police performance. Police Accountability Commissions will also be set up by states to address complaints of police misconduct. However key police functionaries (e.g., DGP and police station in charge) will have a minimum tenure of two years unless they have been convicted by a court, or suspended from service, etc.
  • Service Conditions: The state government will ensure that the average hours of duty of a police officer do not exceed 8 hours (in exceptional situations, 12 hours). Adequate insurance coverage will also be provided to personnel against any injury disability or death caused in line of duty. A Police Welfare Board must also be set up to administer and monitor welfare measures for police, including medical assistance, group housing, and legal aid for officers facing court proceedings

(iv) Constabulary related issues

The constabulary constitutes 86% of the state police forces.  A constable’s responsibilities are wide-ranging, and are not limited to basic tasks.  For example, a constable is expected to exercise his own judgement in tasks like intelligence gathering, and surveillance work, and report to his superior officers regarding significant developments.  He assists with investigations, and is also the first point of contact for the public.  Therefore, a constable is expected to have some analytical and decision-making capabilities, and the ability to deal with people with tact, understanding and firmness.

The Padmanabhaiah Committee and the Second Administrative Reforms Commission have noted that the entry level qualifications (i.e. completion of class 10th or 12th in many states) and training of constables do not qualify them for their role. One of the recommendations made in this regard has been to raise the qualification for entry into the civil police to class 12th or graduation. It has also been recommended that constables, and the police force in general, should receive greater training in soft skills (such as communication, counselling and leadership) given they need to deal with the public regularly.

The Second Administrative Reforms Commission has further noted that the promotion opportunities and working conditions of constables are poor, and need to be improved. Generally, a constable in India can expect only one promotion in his lifetime, and normally retires as a head constable, which weakens his incentive to perform well.  The Commission recommended that the orderly system be abolished across states.

Importance of providing housing to the constabulary (and generally to the police force) to improve their efficiency and incentive to accept remote postings has also been emphasised by expert bodies, such as the National Police Commission. This is because in remote and rural areas, private accommodation may not be easily available on rent.  Even in metropolitan areas, rents may be prohibitively high, and adequate accommodation may not be available in the immediate vicinity of the police stations affecting their operational efficiency. 

The Standing Committee on Home Affairs (Chair: Mr. Anand Sharma) presented its report on ‘Police - Training, Modernisation and Reforms’ in 2022. 

Key observations and recommendations of the Committee include:

  • Police training:The Committee noted that there is a need to develop soft skills and bring a behavioural change in the police personnel, and train them on understanding and using new technology to solve crimes.  It recommended transforming several aspects of current training programmes, such as: (i) adding programmes on artificial intelligence, robotics, drone technology, forensic and ballistic sciences, (ii) emphasising on procedures during arrests and rights of the detainee, (iii) including updates in laws, and (iv) creating training manuals on the local customs of tribals and other vulnerable groups.
  • Linkage with universities:The Committee recommended that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) may advise states to link a cluster of police stations to a particular university.  It also recommended that the MHA may collaborate with state governments to open more police universities in their respective states.  These universities can then take up research on regional issues related to crime, criminal justice, public safety, and security
  • Common training module:The Committee noted that a common minimum standard of police training must be maintained.  It recommended that BPR&D may prepare a common training module and shared it among states/union territories (UTs).  Online libraries of central and state police training academies may be created to make them available across the country. 
  • Use of technology by state police:  The Committee recommended that the MHA should collaborate with states and UTs to deploy unmanned aerial vehicles for: (i) VVIP security, (ii) surveillance of crime hotspots, (iii) crowd control and riot management, and (iv) disaster management.  MHA may advise states and UTs to integrate Crime and Criminal Tracking Network System (CCTNS) data with that of courts, prisons, and forensics to reduce duplication of work and errors.  Further, MHA may incentivise states to leverage technologies like artificial intelligence and big data for policing.  The Committee also recommended that MHA may advise states to set up cyber cells in all the districts to map cyber-crime hotspots.
  • Vacancies in state police forces:The Committee noted that there is a nearly 21% shortfall against the sanctioned strength of 26.2 lakh in state police forces.  This leads to overtime work for personnel in stressful situations and affects the efficiency of the force.  It recommended that the MHA may advise states/UTs to conduct police recruitment drives as a concentrated mission and remove the administrative bottlenecks for the recruitment of police personnel at different ranks.  Further, MHA may task BPR&D to conduct a study to determine functions of the police that can be outsourced with requisite training. 
  • Adoption of Model Police Act, 2006:The Committee noted that the Model Police Act had been forwarded to all the states in 2006.   Since then, 17 states have either enacted the Model Act or amended their existing Police Acts.  The Committee recommended that the MHA may take feedback from the remaining states and pursue them on the adoption of the Act.   Further, MHA may collaborate with the 12 states and UTs that have not implemented the recommendations of the Mooshahary Committee on police reforms to furnish their current status on those recommendations
  • Independent police complaint authority:  The Committee noted that 31 states/UTs have constituted Police Complaints Authorities (PCA) at the state and district levels for looking into complaints against police officers.  The Committee stated that the PCA should be established outside the police force.  Therefore, it recommended that the MHA, with the Ministry of Law and Justice, may collaborate with states to ensure an independent composition of the PCA.  The PCA should comprise of retired High Court Judges, retired senior civil servants, and eminent jurists with the representation of women.  The Committee also recommended that the MHA may advise states that the internal grievance redressal cell of police should work in a time-bound manner to ensure that the grievances of aggrieved police personnel are addressed in time. 

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