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Change Resistance

A committee sans commitment delays reform of our police

Change Resistance
Narendra Bisht
Change Resistance

Short On Intent

  • In May 2008, the Supreme Court set up a monitoring committee to ensure that states implement police reforms
  • A year later the committee has done little. It has contacted only eight states.
  • No state has been serious about implementing the court's orders
  • Even Delhi Police, which comes under the Union home ministry, is yet to see reforms
  • The apex court had laid down six parameters to make the police effective, accountable and insulated from political interference


"The Indian National Congress recognises the imperative of police reforms. A clear distinction between the political executive and police administration will be made. Accountability of the police force will be institutionalised."

—Congress manifesto, 2009

The UPA might not have forgotten to make this promise, but will it keep its pledge to usher in police reforms? The indications so far haven't been encouraging, since despite a Supreme Court order in 2006 in the Prakash Singh Vs Union of India case and the recommendations of at least three committees/commissions, not to mention several assurances by UPA home ministers in Parliament, the country is yet to see police reforms and a model Police Act being implemented.

Perhaps frustrated by the lack of progress and the resistance from the states, the Supreme Court in May 2008 set up a three-member committee to monitor the progress of states in implementing its directives. However, one year and some Rs 10 lakh later, the monitoring committee, headed by a retired Supreme Court judge, Justice K.T. Thomas, has little to show for it. Not only has it failed to push forward the implementation of police reforms, it has also asked for a further Rs 20 lakh to carry on its work.

Homing in on reform: Chidambaram with the Mumbai police at CST after 26/11

So far the monitoring committee has held just eight meetings and examined the progress in eight states out of the 28 under its charter and is yet to examine the role of the Government of India and the police forces under its direct jurisdiction. Besides Justice Thomas, the committee has retired police official Kamal Kumar and a joint secretary from the Union ministry of home affairs to monitor the implementation of the apex court's 2006 directives. For each sitting, Justice Thomas is entitled to Rs 50,000 while the other members are supposed to get Rs 35,000 each. This means that in the eight sittings the committee has had thus far, Justice Thomas has taken home Rs 4 lakh; the other members have pocketed Rs 2,80,000 each. However, the mha joint secretary has so far declined to accept his sitting fees. Had the monitoring committee shown some urgency in executing its brief, 26/11 would perhaps have been a different story.

Broadly, the six directives issued by the apex court for the states to follow till they legislated a new Police Act were as under:

  • Setting up of a state security commission in every state to ensure that the state government did not exercise unwarranted influence or pressure on the state police and for laying down broad guidelines so that the state police always acted according to the laws of the land and the Constitution;
  • Selection of a state's director general of police would be from "amongst the three seniormost officers". The apex court also mandated that the DGP have a minimum tenure of two years. The state government, in consultation with the proposed state security commission could only effect the DGP's removal;
  • Fixing a minimum tenure of two years for police officers on operational posts unless they faced disciplinary proceedings or were convicted in a criminal offence;
  • Setting up a separate investigation police force to ensure criminal cases could be prosecuted effectively. This would ensure that maintenance of law and order, vip security duties and other ancillary duties wouldn't dilute the investigation of criminal offences;
  • Setting up a police establishment board that would decide on all postings, transfers, promotions and other service-related matters. The state government could intervene in the workings of this proposed board in "exceptional cases only"; and
  • Setting up of a police complaints authority at the state level as well as one in every district of the state, headed by a retired high court judge for the state and a retired district court judge for the district. These bodies would look into all complaints of serious misconduct against police officers such as custodial deaths, extortion, land/house grabbing etc.
So far, out of the 28 states and four union territories, the monitoring committee has been able to look only at Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. The committee did take up Jammu & Kashmir but is yet to examine the state's efforts thoroughly. Instead, in the first two meetings held on July 26 and August 28 last year, it spent time discussing the modalities and methodology of its work. Work actually began on September 24, which was largely a general discussion. Since then the committee has met just five times and issued letters to the eight states. In fact, the committee has been able to furnish only two reports after a year; one on its functioning and methodology of work and an interim report on a few states.

What explains the committee's lethargy in implementing police reforms as mandated by the Supreme Court? "The point is," Justice Thomas told Outlook in a telephonic interview, "that we have to persuade the states which have not yet implemented the Supreme Court's directives. Since many states are not doing this happily, it leads to delays." While he cites the voluminous nature of the work before the monitoring committee, its critics feel that had the states implemented the apex court's directives, then there wouldn't be need for such a committee in the first place. "To say that the states are not cooperating is not enough," a senior home ministry official told Outlook. "Instead, the committee could have easily made out a severe case against one or two states and made an example out of them. This would have ensured that the others fell into place."

Prakash Singh, a former DGP of Uttar Pradesh and of the BSF, as also the petitioner in the case, feels the lack of police reforms are directly linked to the rise in terrorism. "The weaker the police is, the stronger the terrorist gets. Any insulation of the police from political interference is extremely urgent if we are to provide a safe and secure environment which is key to progress and investment." Home minister P. Chidambaram told Outlook that six committees have been set up to look at police reforms under the Police Mission module and 12 sub-groups have begun work to look at related issues in detail. "I expect them to give me their reports soon so that we can accelerate police reforms," he had said after taking over mha.

Ironically, while Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his earlier tenure had expressed his dissatisfaction with the Police Mission, which was set up to modernise and reform the police, the mha has continued to ignore the Supreme Court's directive for police forces directly under its jurisdiction—the Delhi Police, for instance. Verdict 2009 has been decisive, it would help if the UPA were too about its commitments.

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