This Article has been authored by Sejal Gupta, a student at Nirma University, Ahmedabad.
The Indian police force is regulated by a colonial-era statute passed in 1861. Since policing is a state subject under the Indian Constitution, state governments are responsible for providing police services to their people. After independence, however, most states implemented the 1861 Act unchanged, while others enacted legislation strongly influenced by it.
The need for reform of police in India and - fundamentally- the police laws has been long recognized. There has been almost 30 years of debate and discussion by government created committees and commissions on the way forward for police reform, but India remains saddled with an outdated and old-fashioned law, while report after report gathers dust on government bookshelves without implementation.[i]
The set of seven directives, aimed at kick-starting reforms, was introduced based on a public interest litigation filed in 1996. Despite various National Police Commission recommendations made since 1979, successive governments did not implement the major recommendations. The 1996 PIL, filed by two former director generals of police, Prakash Singh and NK Singh (Prakash Singh v. Union of India (2006)), asked the Supreme Court to direct governments to implement the recommendations. A decade later, the court ordered that these seven directives be implemented.[ii]
But what was unexpected was the outcome. In this article, the reasons for the police department's failure to enforce what the Supreme Court ordered, as well as the changes that are needed, with an emphasis on separation of law and order and investigation are outlined.
History of Police Reforms in India
The Government of India established a National Police Commission in 1977 after observing that "far-reaching changes have taken place in the country" since independence, but "there has been no systematic review of the police system at the national level since independence due to dramatic improvements in the country's political, social, and economic situation." Between 1979 and 1981, the NPC released eight comprehensive reports that contained clear recommendations for all facets of police work.
The National Police Commission recommended, in the first survey, that the existing constable system, which accounted for more than 85% of the force, be overhauled. It was suggested that they should be hired and trained in a way that allows them to perform tasks that require independence and decision-making. The Commission had also proposed a system for resolving grievances.
The second report of the Commission stressed that the police's basic responsibility is to serve as a law enforcement agency and provide impartial service to the public. It expressed grave concerns about police brutality, interference with illegal or improper orders, and intimidation by government officials or other foreign organizations. The Commission recommended that the state government's supervisory power over the police be limited to ensuring that the officers carry out their duties in accordance with the law. It suggested that each state create a legislative body called the 'State Security Committee,' and that the chief of police be guaranteed a minimum definable position.
The third study focused on procedural laws and the dangers of failing to file charges in order to deter crime. The role of the police in dealing with society's poorest members has also been looked at. The Commission stressed that designating officers in charge of police stations should be the sole responsibility of the District Superintendent of Police, and that selecting and appointing superintendents of police stations should be the sole responsibility of the Chief of Police.
The fourth report stressed upon the urgent need to merge the investigative and prosecutorial roles and proposed procedural law improvements to facilitate judicious investigations. The Commission defined requirements for police participation in the enforcement of social laws.
In the fifth report, the appointment of constables and sub-inspectors was addressed, as well as the importance of their proper training. The sixth report recommended the appointment of police commissioners in major cities with populations of 500,000 or more, as well as in areas of heavy industrialization or urbanization. It also recommended a number of changes to improve the police's management and prosecution of communal riot cases.
The seventh study centered on the police department's operational management, stressing that the Chief of Police should be in charge of everything. According to the eighth report, It was recommended that the State Security Commission should be given an autonomous cell to assess police performance in both qualitative and quantitative terms.
Need for the Separation of the Two Wings of the Police: Law and Order and Investigation
Both wings of the police force, law and order and investigation, must be kept separate in order to function effectively. However, this does not imply absolute aloofness on both wings, but rather a cooperative structure.
As suggested by the Supreme Court in Prakash Singh v. Union of India (2006), “the investigating police shall be separated from the law and order police to ensure speedier investigation, better expertise and improved rapport with the people.” It also said that the two should have "full coordination." According to the National Police Commission's sixth report, such a division should be confined to the police station level, under the supervision of the Station House Officer (SHO). Both investigation and law and order will be the responsibility of officers above the SHO. This recommendation would necessitate more human capital to implement, however it is worthwhile.
The police force must limit itself to core duties in order to provide effective policing. To relieve the state police of their regular functions, it is proposed that the excise, forestry, transportation, and food departments each have their own enforcement wings. Functions like issuing court summons, antecedents and addresses verification for passport applications or work verifications and so on, according to the Fifth Report of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission, may be outsourced to private agents or government agencies. These interventions would assist the police in reducing their workload.
Moreover, specialized crimes require a specialized approach and personnel to deal with them. Social crimes like offences related to beggary, prostitution, crimes against women, domestic violence, dowry offences etc., cannot be handled by the traditional daroga. Experts suggest that it needs to be handled by a separate wing with people who have graduated in Social Science/Social Work. Another upcoming category of crimes is cyber crimes. In light of its highly complex nature, experts feel that one can recruit students who have done MCA or passed out from an IIT as sub-inspectors/inspectors under the State CID. To prevent detection, they should work in plain clothes.[iii]
The seven directives issued by the Court offer a boost to the reform movement, but they leave the mechanism open-ended. It fails to identify the functions and powers of the entities defined by the judgment in relation to the power structures that already exist. The other point is that the judiciary should not be tasked with doing what the legislature should do, which is to provide a basis for these directives.
In a democratic system, public authorities must be held accountable for their conduct. The Police Complaints Authority, as envisioned by the Supreme Court in the Prakash Singh case, is one such body that serves as a police watchdog at the district and state levels. While the Authority's recommendations are taken on a case-by-case basis, they have an effect on policing in general. There are 19 complaints in total. Various states across the country have formed authorities. Regardless of their geographical positions, almost all operating authorities face similar issues, ranging from bad architecture in terms of composition and powers to corruption.
Any nation with a well-functioning administrative structure requires a well-functioning police force. With regard to law and order and crime management, there is an urgent need to review the police governance system and bring about the necessary reforms.
[i] Initiative, C. H. (2011). Police Reform Debates in India [ii] Raman, S. (2020, September 27). Fourteen years on, no Indian state has fully complied with Supreme Court-ordered police reforms. Police Reforms . [iii] Jain, S. J., & Gupta, A. BUILDING SMART POLICE IN INDIA: BACKGROUND INTO THE NEEDED POLICE FORCE REFORMS.