The need for police reforms in India has been long recognised. There has been almost three decades of discussion by government created committees and commissions to remedy the ills affecting the police in India. Way back in 1979, in the wake of the large scale abuse perpetrated in the period of emergency, the National Police Commission (NPC) was set up to report on policing and give recommendations for reform. Between 1979 and 1981 the Commission produced eight reports identifying the several problems and giving recommendations to remedy the same. With the eighth report the Commission also submitted a Model Police Act which would replace the 1861 Act.
However none of the major recommendations given by the NPC for improvement of the police were adopted by any government. This persuaded two former Director General’s of Police (DGPs) in 1996 to file a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court 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 which handed in its reports in 1999. The committee proposed five major recommendations related to state security, selection of Director General of Police (DGP), and the set up of a complaints mechanism that would deal specifically with complaints against the police. None of these recommendations were implemented. Click here to view the Riberio Committee recommendations.
Within a year of the Ribeiro Committee another Committee was set up – the Padmanabhaiah Committee which gave its report in 2000. The Committee examined the recruitment to the police force, training, duties and responsibilities, conduct of police officers, investigations, prosecutions among many other aspects. The committee suggested 99 actionable recommendations, of which 54 were to be implemented by the central government and 69 were to be implemented by the state governments. Click here to view the recommendations of the Padmanabhaiah Committee report.
The more recent attempts at reform were in the form of the Malimath Committee in 2003 and the Police Act Drafting Committee (PADC or Soli Sorabjee Committee) that drafted a new model police bill to replace the 1861 Police Act in 2006. Meanwhile very little was ever done on the ground to improve policing or implement recommendations put forth by any of these committees or commissions. Click here to view Committee Draft Act.
In response to the PIL filed in 1996 the Court after almost decade in 2006 delivered its verdict. In what is popularly referred to as the Prakash Singh case the Supreme Court ordered that reform must take place. The states and union territories were directed to comply with the binding directives of the court (six for the state governments and the seventh for the centre) that would kick start reform. These directives were aimed at reducing the undue political interference in policing, giving the police operational responsibility at the same time making them accountable for their actions and wrongdoing. Taken together as a package deal the directives pulled together the various strands of reform generated since 1979. Click here for the Prakash Singh case.
The Court required immediate implementation of its orders either through executive orders or new police legislation. At first the Court itself monitored compliance of all states and Union Territories. However in 2008 it decided to set up a three member Monitoring Committee with a two year mandate to examine compliance state by state and report back to it periodically. The Monitoring Committee held its first meeting in July 2008 and since then been looking at compliance levels of all the different states. In the first round the Committee examined compliance in relation to affidavits and government orders passed by the states. In the second round the Committee is looking at ground realities of state compliance. It is doing this for the four states of Karnataka, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Till date the Committee has submitted four reports of its findings to the Supreme Court. Click here to view terms of reference of the monitoring committee.
CHRI has been monitoring the progress of these reforms very closely. Most of the compliance remains on paper and there is little or almost no political will to bring about the much needed reform. Click here to see CHRI’s chart on the compliance of states to the Supreme Court directives.
One of the crucial directives of the Supreme Court was the establishment of a Police Complaints Authority (PCA) in each state. Three years on, state governments are dragging their feet in this regard. To date, 15 states have ostensibly set up Complaints Authorities, through either new legislations or government orders. Of these only five are functional and the rest exist on paper. Even of the five functional ones implementation has not set any positive precedents or benchmarks that indicate that their functioning has curbed police malpractice or led to systemic changes to reduce and address these. More information is available in CHRI’s publication on PCA’s, Click here to see CHRI’s Complaints Authorities- Police accountability in action.
With an option to replace the 1861 Police Act with new police legislation made available to the state governments, most states have passed legislation which in effect tends to reduce or dilute accountability, give additional powers to the police as well as ensure that the police remain accountable to their political bosses rather than to the law. Recently, the Delhi Government has come up with a draft amendment to the Delhi Police Act of 1978. The Amendments in no way take forward the issue of reform – in fact they thwart it. The piecemeal amendments in effect disturb the logic of the Principal Act and contribute nothing to making the force more accountable, professional and law abiding as a result ensuring that public confidence in the police gradually declines. CHRI is actively involved in urging the Centre to craft a comprehensive new law for Delhi based on the improved version of the Model Police Act and enact it only after it has been widely publicized and debated.
Many reform initiatives have met with limited success in India. A good example is the Haryana Police Academy, which is conducting a unique experiment in community interaction by effectively ‘adopting’ 27 villages covered under the jurisdiction of the Madhuban Police Station, located in the vicinity of the Academy. The programme was initiated with an informal assessment of the communities immediate needs. This was done by a series of open meetings with different groups of villagers to gauge the difficulties faced by them. The programme’s primary intervention was to ensure that there is regular patrolling of villages by groups of police personnel. The initial response to this was very heartening and the community reported a marked change in the environment of the village. The initiative has so far effectively enabled the villagers in combating the liquor mafia, curbing drunk and disorderly behaviour in public, and staging an intervention at the time of rising discord relating to the defunct bus services plying in the villages. The programme has gone so far as to explain to the villagers how to lodge complaints to public authorities, the procedure involved and how to file applications under the Right to Information Act. It is possibly for the first time that the community is viewing the police as an ally and a mentor rather than just a wielder of authority or an extortionist. The community’s response to the programme seems to be gradually changing to a sense of ownership in the programme, which is it’s ultimate goal. The sensitization of the police is being implemented through a rigorous training schedule for the project group, which focuses on not only gaining clarity on the subject matter but also to realise that a problem exists and coming up with creative solutions to redress those.
Kerala is another example of a state committed to reforming its police. They have had successful inroads especially in the field of community policing. The Janamaithri Suraskha Project (JS) has been implemented successfully in 41 stations across Kerala and will soon be extended to a 100 stations . Click here to read more on the JS project. The success of the project and similar initiatives can be attributed to Kerala’s high literacy rate and the commitment shown by the government of Kerala and the police leadership to carry this work forward and could serve as a template for other states to follow.
 The states of Kerala, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Goa, Assam, Tripura, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, Haryana, Punjab, Biha, Maharashtra, Orissa, Sikkim, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Nagaland have set up PCAs. The five functional ones exist in Assam, Goa, Tripura, Uttarakhand and Kerala.
 The Hindu (2010) Jana Maitri to be extended to more police stations, 2 April: http://beta.thehindu.com/news/states/kerala/article381614.ece as on May 5 2010.