Police Accountability in India

Topics: Police, Human rights, Constable Pages: 24 (9230 words) Published: September 7, 2010
5Police Accountability in India By G.P.JOSHI Introduction India is a union of 28 states and 7 union territories.1 Under the Constitution of India, the ‘Police’ are a State subject.2 This means that they are the responsibility of State governments. The organisation and working of the police forces are governed by rules and regulations framed by the state governments. Each state/ union territory has its own separate police force. In addition, there are central police organisations set up by the union government for specialised work. The total strength of the state/union territory police forces on 1.1.2003 in the country was 14,68,776. In addition, the strength of the five3central para-military organisations alone was 6,01,328.4 The combined strength of state and central police is about 2.2 millions. This huge reservoir of trained manpower can become a very important catalyst of positive change in society provided they are made to serve the rule of law and held accountable for their sins of commission and omission, if any. The issue of holding them accountable is very closely linked to the type of control and superintendence exercised over them. This paper discusses the subject of police accountability in India in four parts. The first part describes the main features of the police system established by the British in this country and shows how the idea of making the police accountable to anyone outside the establishment did not fit into the colonial model of policing introduced in this country. The second part argues that though the post Independence India witnessed changes on many fronts, the police system, in its basic structure, methods of work and lack of public accountability remained more or less unchanged. It also discusses some developments that resulted in strengthening the executive control over the police and leading to an increasing abuse of police forces and misuse of police powers. The third part talks about the need to make the police accountable, especially in the context of citizens’ complaints against police personnel and discusses the mechanisms that exist, both within and outside the department, to ensure accountability. The concluding portion sums up the discussion and suggests that the need for police reforms is too important to be neglected and too urgent to be delayed. 

Programme Coordinator, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiaitve, New Delhi


1. The Police System - A Colonial Legacy The Police as an organised institution in this country came into existence with the Police Act of 1861. This legislation was passed in the wake of the Indian Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, when the Indian soldiers in the colonial army revolted against their British commanders. The mutiny later developed into a rebellion against British rule in India. Though the revolt was quelled speedily and successfully, it did jolt the British into taking many steps to consolidate their rule in India, including the establishment of an authoritarian police force to support the colonial government. The British realised that to perpetuate their rule in this country, they must have a police force that was totally subservient to the executive. The executive must exercise complete and unquestioning control over the police force. Section 3 of the 1861 Police Act vested the superintendence5 of the state police forces in the state governments. The same Act introduced a system of dual control at the district level.6 It put the police forces under the command of the District Superintendents of Police, but subject to the “general control and direction”7 of the District Magistrates. This was done deliberately because the functioning of the District Magistrate as the chief officer of the district was considered essential for the maintenance of British rule in India. Under the system of police governance established by the 1861 Act, the police forces in India were unaccountable to anyone except their own hierarchy and the colonial political and...
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