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Police Reform Is The Need Of The Hour


Beside law, we need to change the attitude of the police system. India’s police are governed by archaic and colonial police laws harking back to 1861. Under the Indian Constitution, policing is a state power, which means that state governments have the responsibility to provide their communities with a police service (the national government has the responsibility for policing in union territories). Most state governments have a police law that adopts or reflects the basic ideas of the 1861 legislation.

There has been almost 30 years of debate on policing and reform in India, with commission after commission submitting reports and recommendations to governments. Each report has gone unimplemented. At the end of 2006, there was a shift in the reform process, with a Supreme Court decision that required Indian governments to ensure police accountability and the release of a draft Model Police Act by a national Police Act Drafting Committee.

‘Police’ means a system of regulation for the preservation of order and enforcement of law, the internal government of state. Law is the body of rules recognized by people as binding. Order means prevalence of constituted authority. No doubt police is essential part of any society. Law and order is the first and foremost pre-requisite of a civilized society .This objective is attained through policing. Under the constitution, ‘law and order’ is the direct responsibility of state governments .The very first entry in the state list of functions in the seventh schedule is the ‘public order’, followed immediately by police, including village and railway police. Administration of justice is the third entry. Police is the instrumentality for both the public order and administration of justice. ‘Law and order’ is the single most important function of state on which its reputation depends; many of them are in worst condition. Every state wants more funds but don’t want to share power rather they want it absolute and unquestioned.

Indian police act was passed in 1861, which gave enormous power in hands of police. On the basis of same act police still runs in this country with no substantial change in structure or mandate. The police system which were created by British to harass Indians and divide them to rule, are still working with same procedures, ways or by means even after so many years of independence shattering the dream of our freedom fighters who fought with the same colonial police to get the freedom(though they never ever would have dreamt of such that same police will harass Indians even after freedom)Freedom has no meaning for those innocents who are arrested for no reasons, tortures by police for petty crimes and keep them in jail without even trial ,indirectly contributing to criminalization, maoists can also be considered as byproduct of our irresponsible police, Government is keeping even protecting them functioning in same way as Government protects colonial building heritages. Some cosmetic changes do happened but that was not effective neither they were intended to do so. Second police commission was established in 1902(first was in 1860 itself) which remarked “the police force is far from perfect. It is defective in training and organization, it is inadequately supervised. It is gradually regarded as corrupt and oppressive and it has utterly failed to secure confidence of and cordial relations with people” .If a British can comments like that then anyone can thinks what will be real situation.

The image of the police today is not that of a protector of the innocents but as a perpetrator of excesses, collude with criminals and one of the most corrupt arms of the government. If movies portray the sordid nexus between police and criminals and police being silent handmaidens of politicians you cannot accuse them of exaggeration.


Look at the top cops who have been arrested in the Telgi fake stamp paper scam. It includes some of the top police officials including a former Commissioner of Police of Mumbai. The man who planned the murder of Delhi journalist Shivani Bhatnagar is Ravikanth Sharma, an IPS officer in the rank of an IG. So deep is the rot. Top postings today are decided not by merit or experience but based on the political leanings of the officers, their proximity to the powers that be, their caste affiliation and more importantly their readiness to bend the law to help those in power. No wonder whenever there is a change of government in a state the police officers too are shuffled based on the above qualifications.


The major public complaints against police personnel are,they are brutal and lawless; they are highly corrupt;  they are partisan and politicized; and  they lack professional competence.

This despite India having one of the finest selection processes for IPS officers which is backed by excellent training at the National Police Academy in Hyderabad. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of the selection system at the state level where officers below the ranks of DSPs are recruited. Favoritism, corruption and casteism play a major role in this process and an upright, competent candidate should consider himself lucky if he gets selected.

Another major flaw in policing in India is the absence of forceful laws to back our policemen.  Outdated laws, judicial loopholes and adequate legal safeguards for witnesses have resulted in many a confirmed criminal walking free without conviction.

In the famous Jessica Lal case in Delhi where the killer, who is the son of a leading politician, could walk free by getting the eye witnesses to turn hostile due to which the police were unable to prove his guilt. If only we had strong laws against perjury, as in Britain, it would make witnesses think twice before retracting their statements.

The most important arm of the police force – the constabulary, which not only forms the bulk of the force but also plays the all important role of interacting with the public, remains the most neglected lot. In an open letter to former President Abdul Kalam the former CBI director R.K. Raghavan had this to say “Nearly 90 per cent of the police forces in the country is comprised of the constabulary. Unlike in the past, more and more educated men and women are voluntarily joining the police at this entry level, in expectation of a satisfying career. This precious resource will have to be protected. This is not possible under the existing state of affairs, where obedience and servility to the senior officers and the political masters are the main criteria for advancement and placement in meaningful jobs within the police. If professional excellence has to be nurtured, even at the level of the much-maligned constabulary, we owe them the right working conditions in which they can give of their best. Such an ambience cannot come about without implementing the most crucial National Police Commission recommendations that are gathering dust in North Block and in State Secretariats.” (Source: Frontline August 17-30, 2002)

A police station should be a place of protection but instead it feels extremely unsafe and unwelcoming, a place most people want to avoid. Beating, torture and illegal arrests are common, so common that complaints about them are few.

Registering a First Information Report (FIR) is an obligation under the law, illegal detention is impermissible, there are clear guidelines for investigation – it’s all there. But in some cases , it takes two weeks to get an FIR registered. It takes a dozen letters and numerous phone calls to heads of police to begin the investigation. It takes a month to suspend the erring officer and get him arrested. So, while courts continue to say that torture in custody flouts the basic rights of citizens and is an affront to human dignity, throughout the country torture remains an inherent part of everyday policing.

Torture and violence is widespread in India and is a routine strategy of police control. It includes custodial violence, physical and mental abuse, rape, threats, humiliations, and deprivations of food and water and medicines. Torture occurs because it is met with acquiescence by the superior officers. Thus, from the eyes of the people, the governmental institutions are granting it a perceived legitimacy. Citizens are usually powerless to report on torture. The police are reluctant to investigate, and when they need to explain why the person died or was injured, they often say that he committed suicide when in custody or they cite an “encounter”, meaning that the person either fled or resisted the arrest, which brought about the use of force.

NHRC ( National Human Right Commision) statistics indicate that in the years between 2003 and 2008, 7,468 persons at an average of 1,494 persons per year of 4 persons per day have died in police and prison custody in India. However, the real numbers are much higher. Cases of persons whose torture did not lead to death are not recorded and the NHRC does not distinguish between “normal” custodial death, such as old age, and death resulting from torture.According to one estimate, there are 1.8 million cases of torture, ill treatment, and inhuman behavior in India every year. The number of actual prosecutions from these numbers is staggeringly low. Despite having about 1,500 cases of (reported) custodial death per year, only 4 police officers were convicted in 2004 and 3 officers were convicted in 2005. The number of indictments was equally low: only 37 officers in 2004 and 25 officers in 2005. This is the picture of immunity.

Acting as a stooge of the ruling party, the Indian police is often brutish and insensitive, siding largely with the powerful rather than protecting the weak. After Independence, several states introduced their own laws governing the police but many of these laws are modeled after the 1861 law and some in fact are even worse, requiring little police accountability.

Policing needs to be depoliticized. It would be unfair to lay the entire blame for the abysmal law and order situation on the Indian Police Service (IPS). The police is crippled in large part because of its bosses – the parliamentarians and legislators – many of whom are corrupt to the core. Any honest police officer who stands up to them is promptly transferred. The threat of transfers hangs over every policeman’s head and for officers with families, constant transfers takes a huge personal toll. Avoiding transfers in turn breeds a culture of conformity and corruption.

According to Transparency International’s 2005 report, the value of petty corruption in the police is estimated at Rs.3,899 crores (approximately 800 million dollars). The report also found that 80% of people who had contacted the police had paid a bribe. That percentage should set off alarm bells but there is absolutely no political will to change the status quo.

Politicians have resisted legislation to make the police more independent because it threatens their power directly. After Indira Gandhi’s infamous Emergency ended in 1977, the government set up a National Police Commission which made several important recommendations to shield the police from political interference. Over 30 years later, many of those recommendations are still in cold storage.

As governments come and go, police officers go through a merry-go-round of transfers. This practice has become so entrenched that there are reports of corrupt police officers in turn, bribing politicians for powerful positions. The whole thing stinks.

The Indian police needs to be sensitized to human rights, gender rights and constitutional guarantees of equality. People constantly talk about how we need tough terror laws. I think, in fact, what we need is a kinder police. Statistics on police brutality quite naturally don’t reflect the scale of the problem. But there is plenty of anecdotal and video evidence to show that police officers at best stand by silently during mob attacks and at worst, participate in violence themselves.

In a rapidly changing rural landscape, the traditional forums of justice like the Panchayats (local village councils) are fast vanishing and the police are required to step in to solve disputes. But the police, with their own caste and communal baggage, act in partisan ways. In a milieu where people have a higher consciousness of their civic rights this creates further turmoil because traditional forums don’t always work and the police take sides further inflaming the problem.

Economic and social changes are placing a much heavier burden on the police and the threats of terrorism and insurgency are only too real. Of India’s 611 districts, 172 are said to face tribal and Maoist insurgencies and urban India is still recovering from the latest shock of the Mumbai attacks. Our police forces are hopelessly unprepared to meet the challenges of policing modern India.

After the Mumbai attacks many angry protesters carried posters saying they would not pay their taxes. Disengaging is unfortunately not the solution if we want a robust democracy and a stable political and economic climate. Indian business has a strong stake in this and should use its leverage in government to push for police reform.

According to Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar an eminent journalist , “ There are limits to judicial activism. Many years ago, the Supreme Court ordered that the Central Bureau of Investigation should be placed under the Vigilance Commission, not Home Minister, to ensure its independence. But that verdict required a new law. Politicians have failed to pass such a law, and so the CBI continues to be a political plaything. Expect similar games with the Security Comissions.

The ratio of police to the population is very low by global standards, police pay is so pathetic that people join only to extort, and the case load per investigatng officer is simply impossible. India probably needs one million more police and jail staff immediately, along with thousands of thana buildings, jails and policemen’s homes. It needs massive investments in forensic facilities and high-quality training.

The Supreme Court can decree many things, but cannot decree that additional revenue should fall out of the sky. So, lack of finance will be the Achilles’ heel of police reform.”

Despite availability of such recommendations almost all the state have hesitated to implement it, reasons are obvious. If these are implemented they will not have power to micro manage the cases for their favor and their party so their intent is clear, they have police an institution to divide and rule, use police in legitimate or illegitimate mostly to abuse power and rule. So only citizen’ initiatives can improve the situation by pressurizing government to implement some of suggestions, use of RTI extensively. Only good policing can maintain the quality of society and stop it from criminalization and can maintain law and order n society and consequently improving the administration of justice and growth and well being of whole society. What is needed to citizen be vigilant and aware of their rights.

Police reform is the need of the hour. But it only sparks debate when high-profile cases come to the fore or high-profile personalities get caught. When governments give affidavits of compliance in court, they have to follow it up on the ground and stop the biased policing, the shoddy investigations, the corruption and beatings in police stations. Otherwise, the affidavits are just so much paper.

If laws are not going to be followed, let’s just throw them out. But if the rule of law is to be obeyed, then it is with the police that the process must start. More laws and more directives will change nothing till every officer is held to account for wrongdoing. There are too many people trapped in a dysfunctional system and it’s for them we must keep trying.



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