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            The Supreme Court on 16 December dismissed the pleas of five states seeking modification of its order issued last year on the selection and appointment of director generals of police. The apex court was hearing applications of various state governments, including Punjab, Kerala, West Bengal, Haryana and Bihar, seeking implementation of their local laws regarding the selection and appointment of DGPs. A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said the earlier directions of the court on selection and appointment of DGPs were issued in larger public interest and to protect the police officials from political interference. The top court, on July 3 last year, passed a slew of directions on police reforms in the country and chronicled the steps for appointment of regular DGPs. It said the states will have to send a list of senior police officers to the UPSC at least three months prior to the retirement of the incumbent. The commission will then prepare a panel and intimate the states, which in turn will immediately appoint one of the persons from that list.


            Police is a subject governed by states. The centre is also allowed to maintain its own police forces to assist the states with ensuring law and order. Therefore, it maintains seven central police forces and some other police organisations for specialised tasks such as intelligence gathering, investigation, research and recordkeeping, and training.

The primary role of police forces is to uphold and enforce laws, investigate crimes and ensure security for people in the country. In a large and populous country like India, police forces need to be well-equipped, in terms of personnel, weaponry, forensic, communication and transport support, to perform their role well.

Further, they need to have the operational freedom to carry out their responsibilities professionally, and satisfactory working conditions while being held accountable for poor performance or misuse of power.


Directions of the Supreme Court in Prakash Singh vs Union of India

In 1996, a petition was filed before the Supreme which stated that the police abuse and misuse their powers. It alleged non-enforcement and discriminatory application of laws in favour of persons with power, and also raised instances of unauthorised detentions, torture, harassment, etc. against ordinary citizens. The petition asked the court to issue directions for implementation of recommendations of expert committees.

In September 2006, the court issued various directions to the centre and states including:

  • Constitute a State Security Commission in every state that will lay down policy for police functioning, evaluate police performance, and ensure that state governments do not exercise unwarranted influence on the police.
  • Constitute a Police Establishment Board in every state that will decide postings, transfers and promotions for officers below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police, and make recommendations to the state government for officers of higher ranks.
  • Constitute Police Complaints Authorities at the state and district levels to inquire into allegations of serious misconduct and abuse of power by police personnel.
  • Provide a minimum tenure of at least two years for the DGP and other key police officers within the state forces
  • Ensure that the DGP of state police is appointed from amongst three senior-most officers who have been empanelled for the promotion by the Union Public Service Commission on the basis of length of service, good record and experience.
  • Separate the investigating police from the law and order police to ensure speedier investigation, better expertise and improved rapport with the people.
  • Constitute a National Security Commission to shortlist the candidates for appointment as Chiefs of the central armed police forces.


Significance of this judgment:

The 22 September, 2006 verdict of the Supreme Court in the Prakash Singh vs Union of India case was the landmark in the fight for police reforms in India. In its directions, the court had pulled together recommendations generated since 1979. They make up a scheme, which, if implemented holistically, will cure common problems that perpetuate poor police performance and unaccountable law enforcement.

The design requires states and the Centre to put in place mechanisms to ensure that:

  • The police have functional responsibility while remaining under the supervision of the executive.
  • Political control over the police is kept within legitimate bounds.
  • Internal management systems are fair and transparent.
  • Policing is increased in terms of its core functions.
  • Public complaints are addressed through an independent mechanism.


What’s the problem now?

Unfortunately, the directions of SC have not been implemented by the states. None of the states have taken it seriously. While few states actively resisted the court’s order, few states did nothing. While few did something but did it wrong and finally, got out from under the Supreme Court’s orders by passing laws which not only do not conform to the court’s orders but actually give statutory sanction to bad practices.

Since the 2006 SC order, almost none follow the SC order either in letter or in spirit. In fact, concerted efforts have been made by all to somehow circumvent the SC directions and retain political control over the police.

For instance, in the majority of the 17 Police Acts passed since 2006, state governments have given themselves the sole discretion to appoint police chiefs instead of choosing from a panel recommended by the UPSC.

In many of the nine operational Police Complaints Authorities currently in place, their design has been subverted by appointing serving police officers as judges in their own cause. Elsewhere, their functioning has been hobbled by the lack of independent investigators.


Why police reform is necessary?

Police is an exclusive subject under the State List of the Indian Constitution. States can enact any law on the subject of police. But most of the states are following the archaic Indian Police Act 1861 with a few modifications. Also, police have become the ‘subjects’ of Parliamentarians and legislators – with a high degree of politicization and allegiance towards ruling party.

India still follows the Police Act, 1861, framed by the British, largely with an aim to crush dissent. The Act was a reaction to the sepoy uprising of 1857.


What has the centre done in this regard?

The Central government had formed committees to create a Model Police law in line with the Court’s directions. It also came up with the Model Bill in 2006. However, the Model Bill of 2006 drafted under Soli Sorabjee’s chairpersonship has been adopted in breach by 17 states and entirely ignored by the Centre.

Another Police Act drafting committee was also formed in 2013 to make revisions to the 2006 model. Dutifully, it has given its recommendations, which now lie mouldering in bureaucratic caverns measureless to man.


Directions issued by the Supreme Court in appointing DGPs:

  • States and Union Territories shall send names of senior police officers to the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) for being considered as probable candidates for the post of DGPs or police commissioners.
  • The UPSC would then prepare a list of three most suitable candidates out of the list of names sent by states and Union Territories.
  • The states are free to appoint any one of them as the police chief.

It is mandatory for the states to send the list of senior police officers to the UPSC at least three months prior to the retirement of the incumbent. The UPSC would then form a committee and intimate the state concerned, which in turn will immediately appoint one of the persons from among that list.


DGP’s moral and authority reflects the mood of the people who are working under his administrative charge, so if the post is not independent from the influence of the political class it will be difficult for the police force to discharge his duties properly. They should be insulated from political encroachment into their system.

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