Dialogue  January-March, 2007, Volume 8  No. 3

Ruler’s Police or People’s Police?

Prakash Singh

Police Reforms is a story of government apathy, public indifference and media disinterest. It was left to the Supreme Court to take up the matter which was of such great urgency but which had not been addressed so far. In a landmark judgment on September 22, 2006, the apex court demolished in one stroke the colonial police structure which was hanging like a millstone around our necks for the last about 145 years. The Police Act of 1861, it may be recalled, was designed by the British to raise a police force which would be “politically useful”.

Taking a historical overview, the Government of India had, in 1977, appointed the National Police Commission as it felt that “far reaching changes have taken place in the country” since independence but “there has been no comprehensive review of the police system after independence despite radical changes in the political, social and economic situation in the country”. The NPC submitted eight detailed reports between 1979-81 containing comprehensive recommendations covering the entire gamut of police working. In 1983, when the reports were forwarded to the State Governments, they were asked merely to take appropriate follow up action and told that

                 “At some places in the 2nd Report (paras 15.24, 15.35 and 15.55) the Commission has relied on the observations and findings of the Shah Commission to arrive at certain conclusions. Government strongly repudiate all such conclusions. At several other places…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. Government are of the view that no note should be taken of such observations”.

The hint was more than obvious. The state governments conveniently put the major recommendations of the National Police Commission in cold storage.

These recommendations of the National Police Commission were subsequently resurrected in a PIL to the Supreme Court in 1996. At the time the petition was filed, the Supreme Court’s attention was drawn, among other things, to two major tragedies which had overtaken the Republic due to the failure of the police to uphold the Rule of Law : the Delhi Riots of 1984 and the demolition of the disputed shrine at Ayodhya in 1992. Justice Nanavati Commission, which inquired into the 1984 Riots, recommended that “there should be an independent police force which should be free from the political influence and which is well equipped to take immediate and effective action”. The Liberhan Commission on Ayodhya has yet to submit its report.

During the pendency of the petition, another tragedy befell the country-the Gujarat Riots of 2002. The National Human Rights Commission which inquired into the riots, made the following observations:

                “The Commission is of the view that recent events in Gujarat and, indeed, in other States of the country underline the need to proceed without delay to implement the reforms that have already been recommended in order to preserve the integrity of the investigating process and to insulate it from extraneous influences ……..

                ...there is, inter alia, urgent need for radical police reform.. ‘if the situation is to be cured, if the rule of law is to prevail’. The Commission therefore urges that the matter of Police Reform receive attention at the highest political level, at the Centre and in the States, and that this issue be pursued in good faith, and on a sustained basis with the greater interest of the country alone in mind, an interest that must overrule every ‘extraneous’ consideration. The rot that has set in must be cured if the rule of law is to prevail.”

The dilemma before the Supreme Court was whether it should wait further for the governments to take suitable steps for police reforms. However, as recorded in the judgment, “having regard to (i) the gravity of the problem; (ii) the urgent need for preservation and strengthening of Rule of Law; (iii) pendency of even this petition for last over ten years; (iv) the fact that various Commissions and Committees have made recommendations on similar lines for introducing reforms in the police set up in the country; and (v) total uncertainty as to when police reforms would be introduced, 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 Supreme Court ordered the setting up of three institutions at the state level with a view to insulating the police from extraneous influences, giving it functional autonomy and ensuring its accountability. These institutions are:

         Ø    State Security Commission which would lay down the broad policies and give directions for the performance of the preventive tasks and service oriented functions of the police;

         Ø    Police Establishment Board comprising the Director General of Police and four other senior officers of the Department which shall decide all transfers, postings, promotions and other service related matters of officers of and below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police and make appropriate recommendations regarding the postings and transfers of officers of the rank of Superintendent of Police and above to the State Government; and

         Ø    Police Complaints Authority at the district and state levels with a view to inquiring into allegations of misconduct by the police personnel.

Besides, the Apex Court ordered that the Director General of Police shall be selected by the state government from amongst the three senior-most officers of the Department who have been empanelled for promotion to that rank by the UPSC, and that he shall have a prescribed minimum tenure of two years. Police officers on operational duties in the field like the IG Zone, DIG Range, SP i/c District and SHO i/c Police Station would also have a minimum tenure of two years. Transfers had become an industry in the states. Every time there was a change of regime, officers were moved en masse. The Court also ordered the separation of investigating police from the law and order police to ensure speedier investigation, better expertise and improved rapport with the people.

The Union Government was also asked to set up a National Security Commission for the selection and placement of heads of Central Police Organizations, upgrading the effectiveness of these forces and improving the service conditions of its personnel.

The aforesaid orders were to be implemented by the end of 2006. Response from the smaller states like Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Tripura, Sikkim, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana has generally been positive. The bigger states are, unfortunately, dragging their feet in the matter. The most negative response has been from the states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat and UP.

The Supreme Court at its last hearing of the case on January 11, 2007, declined to review their judgment in the matter, and directed that the “self-executory” directions – those relating to the selection process of DGP and a fixed tenure for him, a minimum tenure for police officers in the field, and the setting up of Police Establishment Board – be implemented forthwith but in any case within four weeks. The other directions – those relating to the setting up of State Security Commission, Police Complaints Authorities and the separation of investigative and law and order functions of the police – which involved administrative and financial implications are to be complied with by March 31, 2007. All the Chief Secretaries of the State Governments and Union Territories and the Cabinet Secretary have been asked to file affidavits of compliance by April, 10, 2007.

The Supreme Court orders are going to have far reaching implications. They would change the working philosophy of the police, which should in future reflect the democratic aspirations of the people. As the new arrangements are put in place, we should see a people-friendly police gradually emerging from the shadows.

The reforms, it needs to be understood, are not for the glory of the police - they are to give better security and protection to the people of the country, uphold their human rights and generally improve governance. The present generation of police officers will have to rise to the occasion and fulfill the expectations of the people. They will have to ensure that police acts in a humane manner, upholds the Rule of Law, serves the people, and does not support or defend any vested interests, howsoever powerful. They will have to show that what was Police Force is now Police Service and that the Ruler’s Police has metamorphosed into People’s Police.


Dialogue A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati

Astha Bharati