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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 31, July 18, 2009

Road-map for Police Reforms in South Asia

Saturday 18 July 2009, by Prakash Singh

Book Review

Feudal Forces: Reform Delayed—Moving from Force to Service in South Asian Policing researched and written by Sanjay Patil; published by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative in partnership with the Fur Die Freiheit (Friedrich Naumann Stiftung); New Delhi; 2008.

“From the Khyber Pass to the Burmese border, and from the Himalayas to the Pearl of the Orient, the state of policing throughout Commonwealth South Asia is abysmal.” This is how, somewhat picturesquely, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) publication on the state of policing in the South Asian countries—India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka—starts. The publication, Feudal Forces: Reform Delayed—Moving from Force to Service in South Asian Policing, is part of the CHRI’s continuing advocacy on police accountability and reform in South Asia.

In its report the CHRI has beautifully encapsulated how the efforts to reform the police have been stymied in all the South Asian countries.

In India, the National Police Commission submitted comprehensive reports covering the entire gamut of police working between 1979 and 1981. However, its reports received no more than a cosmetic treatment from the government.

The issue of police reforms was resurrected through a PIL filed in the Supreme Court in 1996. It dragged on for ten years, but ultimately the Court gave a landmark judgment on September 22, 2006. The six directives issued by the Apex Court aimed to insulate the police from political interference, enhance its accountability, provide it with autonomy in personnel matters, establish fixed tenure for key postings, separate investigation from law and order work, and create a National Security Commission.

Unfortunately, as brought out in Feudal Forces: Reform Delayed, governments throughout India have shown a lack of political will in implementing the judicial directions. Some States have cleverly passed laws to circumvent the implementation of the Supreme Court’s directions. However, in spite of all the opposition from vested interests, there is still a silver-lining. Several States, particularly of the North-East, have issued orders that are in compliance with the Supreme Court’s directions. Commendable initiatives have been taken in the States of Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan. The process of reform may be diluted, delayed or even subverted to an extent, but it appears inexorable.

It is interesting to reflect that of all the parties, the Congress alone had included police reforms in its election manifesto. Now that the party has been catapulted to power once more, we may hopefully look forward to the reforms process getting fresh impetus. The Government of India, as recommended by the CHRI, should update and pass the Model Police Act and also persuade the State governments, where the Congress or its partners are in power, to pass similar legislation. At the very least, they ought to implement the directions of the Supreme Court in letter and spirit. The judiciary, which set the ball rolling, should also crack the whip on non-compliant States.


Pakistan has a progressive Police Order, 2002 which sought to have a “politically neutral, non-authoritarian, people-friendly and professionally efficient” police. However, a series of ordinances promulgated between 2004 and 2007 significantly diluted the contents of the Police Order. Now that there is a democratic government in the country, there is a renewed demand that these amendments be repealed and that the Central Government should engage in a constructive dialogue with the provinces on police reforms.

Bangladesh continues to be governed by the Police Act of 1861. A Police Ordinance was drafted in

2007. It is a progressive document but is not being promulgated by the bureaucrats who view it as an attempt to dilute their powers and administrative control over the police.

Sri Lanka continues to use Police Ordinance No. 16 of 1865. The 17th Amendment to the Constitution, passed in 2001, provided for the creation of a National Police Commission with a mandate to insulate the police from political interference and investigate public complaints against the police. The executive, however, packed this Commission with its own nominees and that affected its credibility. The terror unleashed by the LTTE and the harsh measures considered necessary to deal with the insurgency were always a strong factor obstructing police reforms in the country. Now that the LTTE has been vanquished, the government should, as suggested by the CHRI, respect the 17th Amendment and strengthen the National Police Commission.

Structural reforms in the police are needed in all the South Asian countries. The CHRI has rightly emphasised that an organisation which was raised as a force to subjugate the people and keep them under imperial dominance must be transformed into a service which upholds the rule of law and protects the fundamental rights of all sections of citizens. The CHRI publication is timely. The newly installed democratic governments of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, and the Government of Sri Lanka (freed from the terror of the LTTE) have, in the CHRI publication, a well-laid-out road-map for them on police reforms in their respective countries.

The reviewer is a former Director General of the Border Security Force, as well as an erstwhile DGP of UP and Assam.

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