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According to Black’s law dictionary, Police is the function of that branch of the administrative machinery of government which is charged with the preservation of public order and tranquility, the promotion of the public health, safety, and morals, and the prevention, detection, and punishment of crimes.


The primary role of Police Forces is to

  • Uphold and enforce laws.
  • Investigate crimes.
  • Ensure security for people and property.


Police Forces generally have two arms: Civil and Armed police. The Civil Police is responsible for day-to-day law and order and crime control. Armed Police is kept in reserve, till additional support is required in situations like riots.

Under the Indian Constitution, police is a subject governed by the states. Therefore, each of the 29 states have their own police forces. The centre is also allowed to maintain its own police forces to assist the states.  Thus, it maintains central police forces and some other police organizations for specialised tasks such as intelligence gathering, investigation, research and recordkeeping, and training.

The present Indian police system is largely based on Police act of 1861. After independence some states came out with their own police acts, for example Bombay Police Act, 1951, Kerala police act 1960, Delhi police act 1978.

States also have their police manuals detailing how police of the state is organised, their roles and responsibilities, records that must be maintained, etc.

There has been a rise of public demand for an efficient, accountable and people-centric police that steadfastly upholds the Rule of Law in all situations. Since independence, the National Police Commission as well as multiple expert committees have submitted successive reports recommending extensive reforms in the Police.  These recommendations have mostly remained unimplemented.

Outstanding Issues with the Police in India

Huge Vacancies

Currently there are significant vacancies within the state police forces and some of the central armed police forces. As of January 2016, the total sanctioned strength of state police forces across India was 22, 80,691, with 24% vacancies (i.e. 5, 49,025 vacancies). Vacancies have been around 24%-25% in state police forces since 2009. States with the highest vacancies were Uttar Pradesh (50%), Karnataka (36%), West Bengal (33%), Gujarat (32%) and Haryana (31%).

Vacancies in the central police forces have been in the range of 6%-14% since 2007. Sashastra Seema Bal (18%), Central Industrial Security Force (10%), Indo-Tibetan Border Police (9%) and National Security Guards (8%) had relatively high vacancies.

An Overburdened Force

A high percentage of vacancies within the police forces exacerbate an existing problem of overburdened police personnel. Police personnel discharge a range of functions related to:

  • Crime prevention and response (e.g., intelligence collection, patrolling, investigation, production of witnesses in courts)
  • Maintenance of internal security and law and order (e.g., crowd control, riot control, anti-terrorist or anti-extremist operations)
  • Various miscellaneous duties (e.g., traffic management, disaster rescue and removal of encroachments).

In India each police officer is also responsible for a large segment of people, given India’s low police strength per lakh population as compared to international standards. Therefore, an average policeman ends up having an enormous workload and long working hours, which negatively affects his efficiency and performance.


While the United Nations recommended standard is 222 police per lakh persons, India’s sanctioned strength is 181 police per lakh persons.

After adjusting for vacancies, the actual police strength in India is at 137 police per lakh persons


Police Accountability

Police forces have the authority to exercise force to enforce laws and maintain law and order in a state. However, this power may be misused in several ways. For example, in India, various kinds of complaints are made against the police including complaints of unwarranted arrests, unlawful searches, torture and custodial rapes.

To check against such abuse of power, various countries have adopted safeguards, such as accountability of the police to the political executive, internal accountability to senior police officers, and independent police oversight authorities.

Constabulary related issues

i) Qualifications and Training: – The constabulary constitutes 86% of the state police forces. A constable’s responsibilities are wide-ranging, and are not limited to basic tasks. For example, a constable is expected to exercise his own judgement in tasks like intelligence gathering, and surveillance work, and report to his superior officers regarding significant developments. He assists with investigations, and is also the first point of contact for the public. Therefore, a constable is expected to have some analytical and decision making capabilities, and the ability to deal with people with tact, understanding and firmness.


Note: – The Padmanabhaiah Committee and the Second Administrative Reforms Commission have noted that the entry level qualifications (i.e. completion of class 10th or 12th in many states) and training of constables do not qualify them for their role.


ii) Promotions and Working Conditions: – The Second Administrative Reforms Commission has further noted that the promotion opportunities and working conditions of constables are poor, and need to be improved. Generally a constable in India can expect only one promotion in his lifetime, and normally retires as a head constable, which weakens his incentive to perform well. This system may be contrasted with that in the United Kingdom, where police officers generally start as constables and progress through each rank in order. Further, in India sometimes superiors employ constables as orderlies to do domestic work, which erodes their morale and motivation, and takes them away from their core policing work. The Commission recommended that the orderly system be abolished across states.

iii) Housing: Importance of providing housing to the constabulary (and generally to the police force) to improve their efficiency and incentive to accept remote postings has also been emphasized by expert bodies, such as the National Police Commission. This is because in remote and rural areas, private accommodation may not be easily available on rent. Even in metropolitan areas, rents may be prohibitively high, and adequate accommodation may not be available in the immediate vicinity of the police stations affecting their operational efficiency.

Crime investigation

In India, crime rate has increased by 28% over the last decade, and the nature of crimes is also becoming more complex (e.g., with emergence of various kinds of cybercrimes and economic fraud). Conviction rates (convictions secured per 100 cases) however have been fairly low. The Law Commission has observed that one of the reasons behind this is the poor quality of investigations.

Crime investigation requires skills and training, time and resources, and adequate forensic capabilities and infrastructure. However, the Law Commission and the Second Administrative Reforms Commission have noted that state police officers often neglect this responsibility because they are understaffed and overburdened with various kinds of tasks.

Further, they lack the training and the expertise required to conduct professional investigations. They also have insufficient legal knowledge (on aspects like admissibility of evidence) and the forensic and cyber infrastructure available to them is both inadequate and outdated. In light of this, police forces may use force and torture to secure evidence. Further, while crime investigations need to be fair and unbiased, in India they may be influenced by political or other extraneous considerations.

Police infrastructure

Modern policing requires a strong communication support, state-of-art or modern weapons, and a high degree of mobility. The CAG has noted shortcomings on several of these fronts.

  1. Weaponry: The CAG has found that weaponry of several state police forces is outdated, and the acquisition process of weapons slow, causing a shortage in arms and ammunition.
  2. Police vehicles: Audits have noted that police vehicles are in short supply. New vehicles are often used to replace old vehicles, and there is a shortage of drivers. This affects the response time of the police, and consequently their effectiveness.
  3. Police Telecommunication Network (POLNET): The POLNET project was initiated by the central governed in 2002 to connect the police and paramilitary forces of the country through a satellite based communication network that will be significantly faster than the existing system of radio communications. However, audits have found that the POLNET network is non-functional in various states.
  4. Underutilisation of funds for modernisation: Both centre and states allocate funds for modernisation of state police forces. These funds are typically used for strengthening police infrastructure, by way of construction of police stations, purchase of weaponry, communication equipment and vehicles. However, there has been a persistent problem of underutilisation of modernisation funds.

Police-Public relations

Police requires the confidence, cooperation and support of the community to prevent crime and disorder. For example, police personnel rely on members of the community to be informers and witnesses in any crime investigation. Therefore, police-public relations are an important concern in effective policing. The Second Administrative Reforms Commission has noted that police-public relations is in an unsatisfactory state because people view the police as corrupt, inefficient, politically partisan and unresponsive.

Possible Solutions

Accountability to the political executive vs. operational freedom

Both the central and state police forces come under the control and superintendence of the political executive (i.e., central or state government).  The Second Administrative Reforms Commission (2007) has noted that this control has been abused in the past by the political executive to unduly influence police personnel, and have them serve personal or political interests. This interferes with professional decision-making by the police (e.g., regarding how to respond to law and order situations or how to conduct investigations), resulting in biased performance of duties.

To allow the police greater operational freedom while ensuring accountability, various experts have recommended that the political executive’s power of superintendence over police forces be limited.

  • The Second Administrative Reforms Commission has recommended that this power be limited to promoting professional efficiency and ensuring that police is acting in accordance with law.
  • Alternatively the National Police Commission (1977-81) suggested that superintendence be defined in the law to exclude instructions that interfere with due process of law, or that influence operational decisions, or that unlawfully influence police personnel transfers, recruitment, etc.
  • The Supreme Court in Prakash Singh vs. Union of India, 1996 case ordered the centre and states to set up authorities to lay down guidelines for police functioning, evaluate police performance, decide postings and transfers, and receive complaints of police misconduct. The court also required that minimum tenure of service be guaranteed to key police officers to protect them from arbitrary transfers and postings.

Independent Complaints Authority

The Second Administrative Reforms Commission and the Supreme Court have observed that there is a need to have an independent complaints authority to inquire into cases of police misconduct. This may be because the political executive and internal police oversight mechanisms may favour law enforcement authorities, and not be able to form an independent and critical judgement.


The United Kingdom has an Independent Office for Police Conduct, comprising of a Director General appointed by the crown, and six other members appointed by the executive and the existing members, to oversee complaints made against police officers. Another example is that of the New York City Police which has a Civilian Complaint Review Board comprising of civilians appointed by local government bodies and the police commissioner to investigate into cases of police misconduct.


India has some independent authorities that have the power to examine specific kinds of misconduct. For example, the National or State Human Rights Commission may be approached in case of human rights violations, or the state Lokayukta may be approached with a complaint of corruption.

However, the Second Administrative Reforms Commission has noted the absence of independent oversight authorities that specialise in addressing all kinds of police misconduct, and are easily accessible.

In light of this, under the Model Police Act, 2006 drafted by the Police Act Drafting Committee (2005), and the Supreme Court guidelines (2006), states are required to set up state and district level complaints authorities

Model Police Act, 2006

The central government set up the Police Act Drafting Committee (Chair: Soli Sorabjee) in 2005 to draft a new model police law that could replace the Police Act, 1861. The committee submitted the Model Police Act in 2006, which was circulated to all the states in 2006

The Model Police Act requires state authorities to have five members

  • A retired High Court Judge
  • A retired police officer of the rank of DGP from another state cadre
  • A retired officer with public administration experience from another state
  • A civil society member and
  • A person with at least 10 years of experience as a judicial officer or lawyer or legal academic


Outsource or Redistribute some non-core police functions

The Second Administrative Reforms Commission has recommended that one way to reduce the burden of the police forces could be to outsource or redistribute some non-core police functions (such as traffic management, disaster rescue and relief, and issuing of court summons) to government departments or private agencies. These functions do not require any special knowledge of policing, and therefore may be performed by other agencies. This will also allow the police forces to give more time and energy to their core policing functions.

Constabulary related Recommendations

  • One of the recommendations made in this regard has been to raise the qualification for entry into the civil police to class 12th or graduation. It has also been recommended that constables, and the police force in general, should receive greater training in soft skills (such as communication, counselling and leadership) given they need to deal with the public regularly.
  • The Second Administrative Reforms Commission has recommended that the orderly system be abolished across states.

Specialized Investigation Units (SIU)

Experts have recommended that states must have their own specialized investigation units within the police force that are responsible for crime investigation. These units should not ordinarily be diverted for other duties.

Improving Police-Public Relations        

One of the ways of addressing this challenge is through the community policing model. Community policing requires the police to work with the community for prevention and detection of crime, maintenance of public order, and resolving local conflicts, with the objective of providing a better quality of life and sense of security.

It may include patrolling by the police for non-emergency interactions with the public, actively soliciting requests for service not involving criminal matters, community based crime prevention and creating mechanisms for grassroots feedback from the community.

Various states have been experimenting with community policing including

  • Kerala through ‘Janamaithri Suraksha Project’,
  • Rajasthan through ‘Joint Patrolling Committees’,
  • Assam through ‘Meira Paibi’,
  • Tamil Nadu through ‘Friends of Police’,
  • West Bengal through the ‘Community Policing Project’,
  • Andhra Pradesh through ‘Maithri’ and
  • Maharashtra through ‘Mohalla Committees’.

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 clout, and also raised instances of unauthorized 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 (e.g., officers in charge of a police station and district) within the state forces, and the Chiefs of the central forces to protect them against arbitrary transfers and postings.
  • 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.

According to a report of the NITI Aayog , of 35 states and UTs (excluding Telangana), State Security Commissions had been set up in all but two states, and Police Establishments Boards in all states. The two states in which the State Security Commissions were not set up by August 2016 were Jammu and Kashmir and Odisha. Note that the report also found that the composition and powers of the State Security Commissions and the Police Establishment Boards were at variance with the Supreme Court directions. For example, in states such as Bihar, Gujarat and Punjab, the State Security Commission was dominated by government and police officers. Further, many of these Commissions did not have the power to issue binding recommendations.


The transformative reforms in the Indian Police is possible through appropriate interventions in skill building and attitudinal training, through reforms that are both bold and practical, and through collective action of all stakeholders to drive a nationwide campaign for change, keeping in mind, the difficult conditions under which our police functions.



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