Police Reforms in Contemporary India

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INTRODUCTION

‘The police force is far from efficient, it is defective in training and organization, it is inadequately supervised, it is generally regarded as  corrupt and oppressive, and it has utterly failed to secure the confidence and cordial cooperation of the people’                  - A.H.L.Fraser, Chairman of the Second Police Commission (1902) speaking about the state of the police force in India

A primary duty of the government is to provide the public with an honest, efficient, effective police service that ensures the rule of law and a environment of safety and security. However,  after a spate of terrorist attacks on our major cities, unfolding of a series of mega-scams, and serious internal threat from Maoists, it appears that the government of India is failing in this duty. This is partly due to the fact that the existing police system is legacy of colonial rule that has been shaped by post-colonial histories. India's police continue to be governed by an archaic and colonial police law passed in 1861. The consequences of poor policing include brutality and torture, extra-judicial executions, a lack of due process, impunity, corruption, bias and discrimination and public fear, anger and resentment. This has led to an urgent need for a comprehensive overhaul of the police system. This essay will focus on the circumstances which led to police reform attempts and the provisions of the various reforms proposed in the police system of India.

INITIAL STEPS IN POLICE REFORM

The Indian Constitution makes policing a state subject and therefore the state governments have the responsibility to provide their communities with a police service. Police is an exclusive subject under the State List (List II, Schedule 7 of the Indian Constitution). States can enact any law on the subject of police. However, after independence, most have adopted the 1861 Act without change, while others have passed laws heavily based on the 1861 Act.

The need for reform of police in India has been long recognised. 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government created committees and commissions on the way forward for police reform, but India remains saddled with an outdated and old-fashioned law, while report after report gathers dust on government bookshelves without implementation. Many committees on police reforms have recommended major reforms in the police system coupled with systematic accountability.

National Police Commission (1977-81)
National Police Commission was the first committee set up by the Indian government to report on policing and to give recommendations for reform. The National Police Commission began sitting in 1979, and produced eight reports, dozens of topic specific recommendations and also a Model Police Act, between 1979 and 1981.

Ribeiro Committee (1998-99)
None of the major recommendations were adopted by any government. This persuaded, two former Director Generals of Police (DGP’s) in 1996 to file a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court, asking for the Court to direct governments to implement the recommendations of the National Police Commission. In the course of the 10 year long case, the Supreme Court directed the government to set up a committee to review the Commission's recommendations, and thus the Ribeiro Committee was formed. The Committee, under the leadership of J. F. Ribeiro, a former chief of police, sat over 1998 and 1999, and produced two reports.

Padmanabhaiah Committee (2000)
In 2000, the government set up a third committee on police reform, this time under the stewardship of a former union Home Secretary, K. Padmanabhaiah. This Committee released its report in the same year.

Soli Sorabjee Committee (2005)
The Police Act Drafting Committee (PADC) or Soli Sorabjee Committeewas headed by Soli Sorabjee (former Attorney General). The committee submitted a Model Police Act to the union government in late...
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