Police Reforms

February 19th, 2010

Round Table Discussion on ‘Police Reforms’ Mr. M.L.Kumawat, Former Director General of Border Security Force and Special Secretary, Internal Security, Ministry of Home Affairs; and Mr. Ajay Mehra, Director, Centre for Public Affairs. Chaired by Mr. Ved Marwah, Former Commissioner Delhi Police; Former Governor of Manipur and Jharkhand in ASSOCHAM, 47 Prithviraj Road, New Delhi – 3


  • Police reforms are indeed a very vexed issue in India. Attempts to delve into this issue have drawn intense cynicism. A look at the history of India’s police will reveal that the entire thinking on police reforms, somehow, do not appear very holistic.
  • There is a near-unanimous opinion that the police are rude and corrupt, and reform is needed to be done to make the police people-friendly. An article by K. Rustomji, one of the country’s most distinguished police officers in India, written in 1995 in The Illustrated Weekly of India, expresses the feeling of a brutalized, tough police system which persists.
  • Sadly, in some parts of the country people are as afraid of the police as they are of criminals and extortionists, especially in some areas in the northeast where the police system has totally broken down. What sort of a message does it send to citizens, when a police force that is supposed to protect them cannot even defend itself?
  • Modern police has its origin in colonial government. In the 18th century, it begins with the East India Company when it obtained the right to Diwani and reformed certain aspects of policing for its own purpose. At that time, citizen-friendliness was not a concern. Police reforms carried out during that time were dictated by colonial exigencies.
  • A disciplined, hierarchical force has been systematically broken into a rag-tag outfit. Our police force, which used to be a disciplined and uniformed force with a hierarchical command and control structure, has completely degenerated. A glance at the Police Commission’s reports of 1902 – 108 years ago – and current analyses is striking. The Home Minister himself has admitted that India’s police is understaffed, ill-trained and ill-equipped and is not geared to face the challenges of today. The Police Commission of 1902 had said pretty much the same thing, also mentioned in the National Police Commission Report of 1981.
  • Not much has really changed in 110 years. Even in 1855 and much before 1861 when the Police Act came into being, the situation was pathetic. Sadly, it continues to be so even today.
  • We have to look at the police as an institution of governance. At the moment, whatever measures are being taken are all knee-jerk reactions, aimed at containing increasing violence. There is no political or intellectual base and impetus for genuine political or police reforms.
  • In India, statistics show that over a thousand policemen are killed every year, the highest in any country in the world. Why are no tears shed for them by the citizenry? The local politicians and their higher-ups have discovered the usefulness of policemen for their political parties. One can understand the erstwhile British rulers looking after the colonial interests and politicians pursuing their political interests but the police system has degenerated into the protection of the caste and tribal interests of politicians and more so, even their personal and family interests. Nothing less than total overhaul of the state police machinery is needed.
  • There are no shortcuts to police reforms. It has to be a comprehensive effort over the years, which must include the police structure including recruitment, training, promotions, posting, workplace, and welfare and material well-being of police personnel.
  • We as citizens must be genuinely considerate regarding the conditions under which the policemen live. We are equally to blame. When things go wrong and when we clamour for reforms, we must look at things that have gone wrong and why. Even today, despite mass recruitment of police officers, even women, the administration provides them no basic facilities, particularly to constables on duty.
  • In developed countries, the police are consulted when a new city is being planned, whereas in India, the police are called only when there is a problem or a crime and they are asked to tackle it. We are struck in a law and order syndrome of policing and have yet to pay heed to the necessity of providing public security. Our vision or thinking is not transformed to public security when we take into account internal security and its various dimensions.
  • Presently, there are four lakh vacancies in the police force, according to the Home Minister of India.50% vacancies were there in five affected states alone, with Bihar having 30% vacancies. Police in these states are understaffed. As per the All-India police-population ratio, India’s ratio is very poor and the ratio of these states is still poorer. The chief ministers have now been asked to fill up those vacancies.
  • But do we have adequate training centres where training can be imparted to recruits? There are about 189 training centres in this country which can train only 50,000 people in a year. What will happen if we recruit one lakh people in place of 50,000? The training that would be imparted will be very much diluted, or, training schools would have to squeeze the training course to 6-7 months instead of a whole year.
  • We ought to be aware that the Home ministry happens to be the most overburdened ministry of the government. Even the Home Minister agrees that this ministry needs to be pruned, because it deals with subjects that are not related to it in the first place.
  • Police however is a state subject; it is not under the central government. All state police forces work under their state governments and chief ministers. The central government can only tender advice The centre can ask the states to fill up their vacancies and ask them to modernise their police forces but has no powers except giving funds and advice. Because the central government is empowered to allocate funds, states are amenable to the centre’s advice. Had this not been the case, perhaps the states would be less inclined to accept advice from the centre.
  • Bihar has no training centre. It has been a decade since the state’s bifurcation in 2000, but the state still lacks a training centre for its officers. While the requirement is for a specialized training centre, Bihar doesn’t even have an ordinary training centre. On top of that, the state has not recruited a single constable or sub-inspector for the last 14 years. As a result, it has vacancies of 30,000 sub-inspectors and constables put together, of which 5,000 vacancies are for sub-inspectors alone. The state has no young policemen who can effectively deal with Maoist menace it faces, especially in some of its districts which are severely affected.
  • India has more that 300 universities, even for subjects like museums, but none for a subject like police that concerns national integrity. We don’t have an institution where people can undertake research and development, can study a subject of importance not only for professionals, but for all citizens. Our country needs such a think tank, a repository of knowledge, a place for research and development where solutions must be found for the problems the nation faces.
  • There are about 14,000 police stations in our country. Most police stations are located in private buildings; many are in huts. We need to provide good infrastructure to our policemen, otherwise their fate will be similar to that which has befallen our police personnel in police stations that have been attacked by Naxals over the last few years.
  • Only a few days back, the West Bengal Chief Minister expressed his readiness to set up a force capable of dealing with Maoists, though twenty years ago, the country did have a model to deal with insurgents adept in jungle warfare. We need a training programme that will adequately prepare our police personnel; impart experience and expertise, weaponry and the training to deal with insurgency and terrorism. These things have never been provided to police forces in the states now facing the Maoist challenge.
  • It takes a minimum of 3-4 years to raise a force of even 300-400 people. Chattisgarh has been active in this regard for the last five years and has been able to raise only 600-700 people till now. One can obtain a loan from the World Bank but cannot loan security forces from other countries. A country of our size will have to raise its own forces to deal with the problems that we face.
  • The Naxal menace has now spread to 223 districts in 20 states. Only 7 minor states in the northeast are left unaffected by this problem. In other words, the whole of India confronts the Maoist threat. There is a need for a central body to monitor this movement, as it manifests in five different stages. The need of the hour is to create a force which can take Naxals on their terms and can remain in forest for days together. This is a must in dealing with terrorists of the kind we face in jungles and mountains.
  • Private Security Agencies Act 2005 was enacted in 2005 but till date only six states have enforced it. The implication of this is That even if the Naxals want to form a security agency of their own, they can do so and start running an agency and provide ‘security’ to people. No permission or police verification is needed to start a security agency; Once this Act is enforced properly, the security will increase manifold.
  • Private Detective Agencies Bill: To have proper control over these agencies, they should be run by Indians where 51% share will be of Indians. Right now, there is no control, whatsoever.
  • National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC): The Home Minister has been talking about it. This model already exists. After 9/11, the United States created the NCTC to prevent offences, but what we have created is the National Investigative Agency (NIA). NIA is of no use to a civilian if we carry out an investigation after his death. We wish states to prevent terrorist crimes for this to have some meaning. Investigation, of course, is required to prevent further crimes by terrorist groups or people associated with these. We have to prevent terrorist offences.


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