Policing Reforms in India

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Policing Reforms in India

Written By: Pulkit Taneja


The police’s role is widely considered as preventing crimes that entail not only apprehending criminals, investigations and searching and maintaining order in the society. In India, these police powers are enriched in state police laws and the Code of Criminal Procedure. For example, section 161 of CrPC empowers a police officer (of the ranking as prescribed by the state’s police code) to examine a person who is considered to be acquainted with the facts and circumstances of the investigation.

Policing in India is often referred to as an organization with a lack of accountability and professionalism. We have been witnessing many police brutality cases, extrajudicial killings, unprofessional behaviour during investigations, corruption, and other statutory violations for a better part of 73 years of being independent. Many jurists and legal activists believe that India’s policing system needs to undergo a rigorous reform procedure. Simultaneously, it is an omnipresent opinion that analyzing and reforming the statutory law would be futile. Considering India is a common law country, precedent is given more priority than the newly drafted law. There is a clear need to reform the policing system in India, increase the officers’ accountability, and modernize the Indian policing system.

There have been many commissions constituted over the years that were purposed to suggest reforms in India’s policing system. These commissions include the Gore Committee on Police Training (1971-73), the Ribeiro Committee on Police Reforms (1998), the Padmanabhaiah Committee on Police Reforms (2000), the Group of Ministers on National Security (2000-01), and the Malimath Committee on Reforms of Criminal Justice System (2001-03). Despite these commissions’ formation, there have not been any significant changes. Such commissions’ primary challenge is the political pressure exerted on them. Considering, police and public order are a part of state subjects, under the seventh schedule of the constitution, the implementation of these reforms would entail the state government’s consent. In 2012, Justice J S Verma submitted a report on amendments to criminal law that urged the “states to comply with all six Supreme Court’s directives to tackle systemic problems in policing”.[1]

This paper would analyze various aspects of reforms in the policing system of this country.

Need for Reforms


The police, on various accounts, have seen to exploit the power to arrest. The National Police Commission reported that the discretionary authority provided to the police to make an arrest has led to widespread cases of malpractice and corruption. Therefore, it was made mandatory that the arrest can now happen only if it’s in the public interest or if it serves the actual requirement of the investigation. Despite the legal requirement to make an arrest in cognizable offences, the police are usually found to arrest while under the pressure of public opinion and to put a show of their effectiveness merely. The police must act in an unbiased way and not what would maybe serve the political purpose of the state. We witnessed recently how the Telangana Police department was praised by people all over the country due to the encounter of the rape accused.

The use of illegal methods to gather evidence and confessions from an arrestee is commonly referred to as third degree. A police officer, to earn recognition, fame, and higher ranks, try to obtain fake testimonies by using torturous methods, especially in high-profile cases like dacoity, gang rape, terrorism.[2] Violence is deemed to be one of the most accessible strategies to obtain a guilty confession. In a report of 2013, the National Human Rights Commission reported 555 alleged fake encounters from October 2009 till February 2013.

Fake encounters are considered to be extremely violative of fundamental human rights. The extreme use of handcuffs was also pointed out to be a significant problem in the Supreme Court. Forced handcuffing is violative of Article 14, Article 19, and Article 21 of the Constitution of India. In the case of State of Maharasthra v. Ravikant S. Patil,[3] a murder suspect was handcuffed by ropes, who later filed a writ petition and was awarded a compensation of Rs. 10,000. Similarly, in Sunil Gupta v. The State of Madhya Pradesh,[4] petitioners 1 and 2 were subject to cruelty and public shame while the police forcefully handcuffed them. The Supreme Court, finally in Prem Shankar Shukla v. Delhi Administration,[5] issued guidelines for handcuffing. These guidelines were:

” 1. Police can only use handcuffs when a person is either accused of a non-bailable offence and is previously convicted of a crime, or the accused shows a desperate character, i.e. if he is violent, obstructive, or is likely to commit suicide or escape.

2. The reason for the handcuffing must be mentioned in the daily diary.

3. if the accused is to be taken to court, the police must take the permission of the court before handcuffing him to and from the court.

4. The magistrate before whom the arrested person is to be produced must seek an explanation for the handcuffing of the accused.[6]

Custodial Deaths:

Custodial Deaths in India are also a factor to point out the lack of accountability of the Police officials. The NHRC has made it mandatory to have all the causes of death in police custody be reported within 24 hours. The number of increased cases of custodial deaths and police torture has subsequently increased the number of Public Intrest litigation filed with the Supreme Court. In D.K Basu V. The State of West Bengal[7], the Supreme Court laid down specific guidelines which would be served as the rights of an arrestee. These guidelines were:

“1. The Police Officer who is making the arrest must bear an accurate, visible, and precisely identifiable badge. The officer’s name and designation must be clear.

2. An official memo of arrest shall be prepared by the police officer at the time of the arrest.  At least one witness should attest to this memo. This witness could be a family member of the person who is arrested or a locality member from where the arrest has been made.

3. At least one acquaintance of the arrestee must be made aware of the arrest.

4. The arrested must be made aware of his right to have someone informed of his arrest.

5. A diary entry must be made regarding the information of the arrested and the date and time of the arrest.

6. The arrestee must also be examined for any injuries, if there are any present on the body, they must be recorded in the inspection memo.

7. A medical examination must be conducted every 48 hours by a trained doctor approved by the authorities.

8. All the copies of the documents must be sent to the illaqa magistrate.

9. The arrested must be made aware of his right to representation and thus must be allowed consultation during interrogation.

10. The arresting police officer must inform the district and the state control room about the details of the arrest within 12 hours.”[8]

This case also pointed out that custodial violence, which includes tortures, is violative of the Rule of Law, i.e. the powers of the executive are not only derived from the law but are also limited by law. The reforms must also focus on the Model Police Act, 2006, penalties must be issued against any official for not following the procedure, for instance, not registering the First Information Report (FIR) as per s.154 CrPC. Aspects of providing relief to a person wronged by police officials must also be looked upon. Although there are provisions of providing financial compensation to a person wronged by the police, however, it does not have any deterrent purpose if the police officials are not made personally liable.


Debates about policing in India are usually focused on accountability, modernization, and professionalism. When we talk about the abovementioned changes needed in the policing system of this country, many believe that granting the police a set of clearly stated but also delimited statutory powers would “automatically” lead to even more powers of the police. Any revision and modernization of statutory powers of the police, e.g. in Police Acts and the CrPC, implies the risk of an expansion of police powers detrimental to fundamental rights.

Policing reforms in India are also factored in by the origin of police laws. Considering most of the existing statutes that provide the police with their powers are based upon the early police acts. These acts cannot possibly correspond with the dynamics of how the supreme court interprets fundamental rights in 2020.

If the police in India are given a fixed mandate which would departmentalize the powers and the duties of the officers, it could lead to the officers following the Rule of Law, being more professional, maintaining a modern working environment, receiving adequate salaries, and all those other features that the police officers of the western countries enjoy. However, it would be essential for the union and the state governments have to corporate with each other at the state level to execute the reform procedure.


[1] The Logical Indian, 11 Years After Famous SC Judgement On Police Reforms, Know What The Judgement Was & Where Do We Stand, April 14, 2017, available at: https://thelogicalindian.com/story-feed/awareness/sc-judgement-police-reforms/https://thelogicalindian.com/story-feed/awareness/sc-judgement-police-reforms/ (last visited September 30, 2020).

[2]National Police Commission, Eight Report of the National Police Commission, 61.3 (1981).

[3] State of Maharasthra v. Ravikant S. Patil, (1991) 2 SC.

[4] Sunil Gupta v. M P, (1990) 3 SCC 119.

[5] Prem Shankar Shukla v. Delhi Administration, (1980) 3 SCC 526.

[6] Id.

[7] D.K Basu V. The State of West Bengal, (1997) 1 SCC 416. 

[8] Id.

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