Need for Police Reform Q&A


1. What is wrong with today’s policing?
Policing in India fails to give all of us a sense of security and make sure the law is followed by everyone. There are many problems – politicians and people with power interfering with the police, weak investigations that don’t stand up in court, slow cops, corrupt cops, violent cops. The poor in our country, especially, are at the mercy of the police when they need the most assistance and protection. The police themselves have many problems. Our police stations are in total neglect. Working conditions of the police, particularly police station staff, remain very poor and make it harder for them to perform well. Long working hours, no weekly-off, poor housing and welfare facilities, a shortage of police officers and inadequate facilities at the thana are few of the many problems facing the police. All this means we the people are not getting the policing we deserve, and neither are police officers getting the institution they deserve.
2. What is the main reason for poor policing in India?
We hear it time and time again, when created under the Police Act of 1861, the Indian police was made to be a force to maintain order and keep people suppressed. We are now a free, diverse, democratic society with a Constitution that gives all of us fundamental rights. The police have to protect these rights and help keep our democracy strong. But since the fundamental structures of policing have not changed since independence, the police still function in a “colonial” mould in terms of their organization, orientation and often mindsets too. Their poor working conditions, inadequate infrastructure, and long working hours makes things worse.
3. Has anyone talked about changing policing?
Yes, many government-created commissions and committees have studied reforms of the police in India, identified main problems and recommended solutions. Some of the key recommendations put forward are: police recruitment must involve psychological tests as part of the selection procedure; during training, police recruits must be evaluated against performance, attitudes and behaviour, and underperforming recruits should be removed; a minimum tenure policy should be put in place to prevent arbitrary transfers; limits should be laid down for maximum number of cases a police station is fit to deal with. This should be reviewed periodically and more police stations created if need be; an independent mechanism such as an external complaints body should be established at the district level to handle public complaints against police wrongdoings, and in case of serious allegations against the police such as rape, grievous hurt or death in police custody, the inquiry should be done by a Judge; and police planning process should include formulation of annual strategic and action plans which lay down clear targets against which performance is evaluated. In short, solutions for better policing are long recognized and clearly laid down.

Click here for a summary of major recommendations on police reforms made by government-appointed committees.

4. What kind of policing should we have?
Good policing requires that the police function:
• As a service and not as a force
• As an upholder of the law and not merely as an enforcer concerned with maintaining law and order


This means it must do all its work in accordance with the constitutionally-mandated human rights framework and within the bounds of law as well as ensure that no one breaks it and if they do, then they are brought to justice. This means that the police must not only protect life and property but also protect the constitutional rights of each individual. As citizens in uniform entrusted with special powers and duties and not an alien privileged force isolated from the public. Modern policing relies on enjoying the support and confidence of society and especially of local communities. Each individual police person must therefore act lawfully, professionally, ethically, and with integrity and be accountable to the law as much if not more than any ordinary person.

5. Who can make police reforms happen?
Policing in India is a state subject as per the Constitution. Each state government is responsible for the organization, functioning and oversight of policing within the state territory. In addition, the Union Government is responsible for policing in the 7 Union Territories namely Andaman and Nicobar islands, Lakshadweep, Chandigarh, Delhi, Daman and Diu, Pondicherry and Dadra and Nagar Haveli.


Union and State governments must ensure that each police officer and the police as a service go about their functions and duties in a manner that respects human rights and the rule of law, builds confidence and cooperation with the community and is accountable for:
(i) all wrong-doing, including the failure to follow procedure; and
(ii) providing efficient, responsive and unbiased every day policing that is regularly evaluated and can demonstrate year on year improvement and public satisfaction.

6. What steps can be taken to achieve better policing?
In 2006, the Supreme Court of India gave us a way to start the long process of police reform in Prakash Singh and Ors vs Union of India and Ors. The Court looked at the recommendations made on police reforms based on which it issued 7 directives to the Union and State governments. These directives aimed at addressing illegitimate political interference in policing, improving internal police management and increasing public accountability. The seven directives make up a scheme, which if implemented holistically will cure the common ills that create poor police performance and unaccountable law enforcement. Briefly, the directives are:
i. Establishment of a State Security Commission: A bi-partisan body comprising of government representatives, leader of the opposition and members of civil society be established for providing policy guidance to the police and evaluating its performance. The Commission would act as a buffer between the political executive and the police leadership and is a way to make sure police have the functional responsibility while remaining under the supervision of the political executive.
ii. Selection and Tenure of the Director General of Police: The post of police chief in a state be appointed through a transparent process based on length of service, service record and range of experience, and the appointment must be for a minimum of two years.
iii. Security and Tenure of Officers on Operational Duties: Police officers on operational duties, including Superintendents of Police in-charge of a district and Station House Officers in-charge of a police station, also be provided a minimum tenure of two years.
iv. Separation of Investigation and law and order functions of the police: In order to encourage specialization and upgrade overall performance, investigative and law and order functions of the police be set up as different wings of the police.
v. Establishment of the Police Establishment Board: The Board made up of the DGP and four senior officers to decide on transfers, postings, promotions and other service-related matters
vi. Establishment of Police Complaints Authorities: Headed by a retire judge and with representation from civil society, Police Complaint Authorities be set up both at the state and district levels in every state to handle complaints against the police.


The Supreme Court hoped states would rise to the occasion and enact new police laws incorporating the directives.

7. Where are we with the reforms suggested by the Court?
Eight years since the judgment, no state has fully complied with the Supreme Court directives. Till date, sixteen states have enacted new Police Acts to replace the old legislation and two states have amended their earlier police law to accommodate the Court’s directives. The new laws, however, incorporate the directives only superficially. Subtle changes are made to the directives which in effect reduce their correctional value. For example, majority states establish Police Complaint Authorities only at the state level, not the district level where the need is most acute. Some states include serving police officers as members of the Authorities, defeating the very purpose of having an independent body for handling complaints.


For more information, see a National Chart and Briefing Paper on compliance with the Court’s directives.

8. Police stations are meant to be public spaces for all of us. How can they be made more approachable?

In addition to policy and legislative reforms directed by the Supreme Court, situation on the ground also needs improvement.

  • The services that the public is entitled to should be listed and put up on notice boards inside every police station. Police stations could have an open visitors’ book where any member of the public can record their arrival time, name and signature.
  • Upgrade all police stations so that facilities are available for the public, staff, records, accused, investigators and as far as possible standardized. Adequate budgets must be available for this.
  • Equip police stations and lockups with CCTV cameras linked to police headquarters in order to prevent malpractice.

Maharashtra State government has been directed to install Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) with rotating cameras in every corridor, room and lock up of each police station so that every part of the police station is covered 24 hours of the day. The tapes of the CCTV shall be preserved for at least one year (Maharashtra High Court, August 2014).

  • Make rude, impolite and inconsiderate behavior by police personnel to members of the public a serious act of indiscipline.
  • Embed the beat system into local policing, with permanent, specially trained beat officers to ensure constant contact with the local community.
  • Fill all vacancies in a time-bound manner.
  • Raise the manpower strength of every police station in proportion to the crime and population of that area. This deployment shall be annually reviewed.
  • Have adequate numbers of women in all police stations to fulfil duties under the laws relating to women and children. All police stations must have a Women and Child Protection Desk, staffed as far as possible by women police personnel to record complaints of crimes against women and children.
9. How can the police respond better to crimes against women?
• Increase the presence of police personnel, including women police, on the streets and increase the visibility of women police officers in police stations.
• Immediately comply with the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) advisories (April 2013, September 2009) requiring at least 33 % women representation in the police.
• Take swift action against any police officer who refuses to register an FIR for sexual offences, as required by the Indian Penal Code.
• Develop and make public specific operational protocols on the police response to, and investigation of, crimes against women, namely rape, domestic violence, molestation and sexual harassment, where needed.
• Conduct specialised training on crimes against women for Investigating Officers.