Police Reforms in India – A Dire Need

Police Reforms

The police system is a system of colonial legacy and is considered as a vital organ of the state rather than the active arm through which the state derives its power and authority. The first Police commission came in 1857 soon after the mutiny. The first Indian Police Act was enforced in 1861. Post-independence, we tend to be ruled majorly by the Indian Police Act (IPA) of 1861 that was written as an instantaneous consequence of the Revolt of 1857. Sir A.H.L Curzon commission was established in 1902-03 to recommend various police reforms and look into problems arising because of the Indian Police Act 1861. It suggested the appointment of local people at the officer level in the police system.

The National Police Committee, 1978 was the first commission at the national level post-independence. It had a wide term of reference covering the police organization, its role, functionality, mechanism, accountability, relations with the public, etc. It submitted eight reports including the Model Police Act, between 1979-81. But the majority of recommendations of the National Commission of Police have remained unimplemented.

However, in the recent past, society has made various attempts towards mitigating the dominance of police over the civilized society, and tremendous strides and protests have been made, especially in the years after independence, and the public’s expectations from the police personnel have changed dramatically. The nature of the offenses committed has undergone a lap change with factors like technology and digitalization influencing both crime and investigation. There is a dire need to amend the system with roots in the 19th century which was set up by a colonial government. There is a need for reformation in the state legislations and one central legislation needs to be formulated for the functioning of the welfare society on the concept of the welfare state and make it relevant to the current times and prevailing situations.


The imperative role of police personnel is to uphold, regulate and enforce laws, investigate crimes and ensure better protection and security for the people residing in the territory. In a populous country like India, police forces need to be well-equipped in personnel, weaponry, forensic, communication, and transport support to perform their role and abide by their duties well. Further, they need to have the operational freedom to carry out their responsibilities in a professional manner to abide by their oath i.e., to uphold the sovereignty and security of the nation, and satisfactory working conditions (e.g., regulated working hours and promotion opportunities), while being held accountable for misuse of power.

Under the Indian Constitution, police have been the subject matter under State List (List 2, Seventh Schedule) therefore every state is under the obligation to legislate an act on the roles, duties, responsibilities of the police forces towards the citizens of the state. The state is said to be an institution that has a monopoly on the fair and legitimate use of physical force. The Police are said to be the instrument of physical force of the state deriving its power from the state. They are accountable for the failure of other instruments or organs of governance as well.

The Police Act, 1861 is still the commanding legislation governing the functioning of Indian Police. The Director-General of Police and Inspector General of Police is said to be the competent authorities and head of the state police whereas the Superintendent of Police rules over a district. The National Human Rights Commission has evidently proven on the material facts that the Police Act needs various modifications to safeguard and protect the human rights of the citizens. The rationale needs to derive and a strong nexus needs to be built differentiating executive functioning and legislative functioning i.e., curbing the role of political figures and leaders who have a stronghold and command over the police forces that affect the credibility of the police too.

It is a general notion that the intelligence-gathering efforts are devoted mainly to collect information about major laws and order problems, while adequate attention is not paid to the collection of intelligence relating to the commission of crimes. While the issues in policing shall be dealt with in my further study. Some of the core committees that were farmed for Police reforms are as follows

  • Gore Committee (1972) 
  • National Police Commission (1979-81) 
  • Vohra Committee (1993) 
  • Ribeiro Committee (1998-99) 
  • Administrative Reform Commission II (2005)

Judicial Activism – Judicial Pronouncements and Intervention of Courts on Police Reforms

The Supreme Court’s directives issues in the case of Prakash Singh in 2006 on police reforms must be implemented. The court laid out seven directives where considerable changes in police reforms are still needed. Some of the highlights are as follows:

  • To constitute a state security commission to make sure that the state does not exercise abuse of power and undue influence on the police.
  • The DGP should be appointed on a transparent and merit-based process and should have a minimum tenure of two years.
  • Other police officers on operational duties should be given a minimum of two-year tenure.
  • The ‘law and order’ and ‘investigation’ functions of the police should be separated.
  • A Police Establishment Board should be set up to decide transfers, promotions, postings, and other service-related matters of the police and its administration.
  • Set up police complaints authorities regarding grievances of the police forces, at the state and district levels to enquire into complaints of the public against police officers of and above the DSP rank for serious misconduct including custodial rape and death.
  • Establish a National Security Commission at the central level for preparing a panel to scrutinize, for the selection and placement of Chiefs of the Central Police Organisations with a minimum tenure of 2 years.

The court directed the formation of three institutions –

Moreover, the Court issued the directive 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 elevated for promotion to that rank by the UPSC and that they 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 shall also have a minimum tenure of two years.

The Court also ordered the bifurcation of investigating police from the law-and-order police whose primary duty is to implement and regulate safety and security to ensure speedier investigation, better expertise, and improved rapport with the civilians. The Central Government was asked to set up a National Security Commission for the selection and placement of heads of Central Police Organizations, upgrading these forces’ effectiveness and improving the police forces’ service conditions.

In the year 2020, the custodial death of a father and son by police in Tamil Nadu and the death of a ruffian namely Vikas Dubey, with alleged political connection in an encounter by Uttar Pradesh police has put a question mark on objectivity, accountability, and credentials of the police in delivering and administering justice.

Factors responsible for atrocities done by police and criminals escaping the criminal justice system range from their political nexus to the inefficiency of police which has resulted in a lack of faith in the criminal justice system in India. This can also be reflected in the Vohra Committee report, highlighting the nexus between the criminals, politicians, government functionaries, and various other instruments. It stated that the network of the mafia is virtually running a parallel government, pushing the state apparatus to irrelevance, and suggested that an independent institution should be set up to effectively deal with the menace involving in crime.

Thus, society is adamant and in need to decriminalize politics and bring about several changes in the criminal justice system including the reforms in the state and central legislation of the Police Act.

Problems relating to the functioning of Police System

Police Brutality

To ensure smooth functioning of the machinery of state, police reforms are of paramount importance. With the diversification and advancement in other sectors, the institution of police requires central legislation to restrict state (executive control) monopoly over the commanding forces. Article 355 of the Constitution of India enjoins upon the Union to protect every state against external aggression and internal disturbance. Following are the issues:

  • Setting up Police Accountability
    There are many grievances against the police such as unlawful arrests, unlawful searches, custodial torture, and even custodial rapes and deaths. To check against such abuse of power, various protective measures need to be implemented. They suppress the ordinary civilians’ voices whom they are obliged to protect. They are even engaged in bribery and corruption charges. There is a need for an independent body that can scrutinize and fix police accountability internally as well as externally through an independent oversight system.
  • Inadequate Resources
    According to the reports submitted by the Bureau of Police Research and development, there has been an acute shortage of weapons, police vehicles, underutilization of funds for modernization. For such modernization, funds are been allocated to the department of police both by the centre and the state, but the problem arises regarding its utilization. Shortage of police vehicles and their undermining capacity retards their effectiveness towards the response time of the police. It has also been found that the weapons provided according to the hierarchy of forces are outdated and the process of obtaining arms and ammunition is also time-consuming and slow.
  • Lack of Operational Efficiency
    The constables under the police act constitute 86% of the police forces. They lack adequate operational efficiency; their routine tasks involve duties towards wise decision making and judgment. It is also suggested that there needs a modification in the qualification and eligibility criteria of such hired constables. The current system requires a change in the recruitment policies and administration governing them.
  • Criminal nexus between Politicians and Police
    There has been unvarying use of dominance and abuse of power by the politicians over the police force. In the current scenario, the regime of police is controlled by the executive, the state police are controlled and dominated by the state action while the special police forces viz. CRPF, CISF, BSF, SSB are controlled by the Ministry of Home Affairs, which results in creating prejudice against the obedience of the police personnel towards their respective duties. 
  • Heavy Workload and Overburdened System
    There has been a scarcity of police forces in India which results in unsatisfactory working situations with enormous workload and long working hours. 
  • Viable Policy and Public Relations
    The connection and relationship of police with the public of its jurisdiction should be sound and healthy because to eradicate the crime from the society, police need support and helping hand of the ordinary civilians in discharging public functions such as maintaining law and order and solving crimes against society.

Solutions and Reforms needed

The prevailing conditions in India need some reforms in acts legislated by the state and the centre, which regulates the police forces in India for their smooth and effective functioning.

  • Eradicating the Nexus
    There is a dire need to separate the control of law and order with the implementation of such law and order, to break the tie of political leaders with the police personnel. Political members who have committed various offenses and on whom proceedings are pending under the competent courts shall be debarred from contesting elections and attending legislative assemblies and the Parliament. There need to be the separation of the executive from the legislative on the ground reality and some independent statutory body should hold command.
  • Complaints Authority
    To inquire into the alleged misconducts of the police forces an independent authority should be constituted. The Model Police Act, 2000 requires setting up of such authority which shall be comprised of retired High Court Judges, retired police officer, Public Administrators from other states, and members of the civil society with the power regarding appointments and transfer. All security-related issues of the state shall be in the hands of the Governor of the state and the President of India.
  • Advancement in Technology
    To monitor such a populous nation, installation of CCTV cameras at public places, a database should be maintained of the professional criminals and should be disbursed at the central level, and innovative techniques such as drones and UAV to monitor the city should be used.
  • Fitness tests and continuous evaluation of the skills at regular intervals
    The examination and evaluation regarding qualification, fitness and other skills required to discharge the duties of police services shall be regulated and checked at regular intervals of time. A performance test should be one of the criteria for giving promotions.


With new crimes evolving in society there is a need and requirement to bring such reform in the police administration and to maintain cordial relations and trust between the police and the society. The policing system needs such reforms that shall meet the expectations of the present society and needs to be upgraded to deal with criminals, crime, safeguarding and uplifting the interest of the legitimate ones. Nothing productive and materialized has been formulated by the government for the police reforms which has resulted to the present situation, despite setting up of various commissions and directives issued by the apex court.

Thus, to create an environment where police can discharge their duties obediently and incentivize police departments to hold best practices, to uplift and safeguard the interest of the civilians of the nations, such reforms are needed to mitigate crime, criminals and to protect the thought of welfare state.

Editor’s Note
The article points out various problems associated with the functioning of the police in the country. The majority of police functions are governed by acts that date back to colonial times. As crimes have advanced and become more diverse, the workload has increased police system is in need of a complete overhaul. The author highlights that though the Apex Court has directed the Central and State governments to bring certain reforms in the police system, the same has not been implemented to any extent by the state. For these reasons, police continue to an oppressive force for the people acting as per the directions of the executive.