Police Accountability In a Democratic Society


The problems of Indian Police are too subtle to comprehend by a layman. A look into die various State Police Commissions demonstrate that there is no dearth of creative ideas and even empirical research about police reform. It is a fact that the Indian Police remains thoroughly a stagnant organization, governed by die century old Police Act of 1861 and the statutes of post-mutiny era. The reasons are not far to seek and the most of the reasons for not allowing the obvious to happen lie in the professional, political, and social-cultural arenas of public life in India. The functional constraints of the police profession warrant a cautious and slow moving approach, which when spelled out in operational terms, fixes a very low priority for police reforms. The police, being the buffer or a shock-absorber of social changes, permit the political rulers of the democratic system to consolidate and legitimize their power positions and naturally, they cannot afford to take the risk in the field of policing at their own peril.

In addition to this, the socio-cultural system in the developing world treats their police forces with callous apathy and hostility because of which the police profession does not get its due share of attention and credit for the stability and the development at the hands of popular representatives in the democratic forums. “The vested interests in society and in the political system generally tend to join hands in maligning die police and frustrate change and growth by exploiting the functional nature of the police job and the disciplined character of the uniform.”


The past decade has witnessed a steep rise in crime statistics in India. As per the data of the National Crime Resource Bureau, cognizable crimes under the Indian Penal Code have shot up from 18,78,293 from 29,49,400 a drastic increase if 63% and cognizable crimes under the Special and Local Laws have gone up from 32,24,167 to 43,76,699 an increase of 73%. The escalation of the crimes speaks for itself on the state of the criminal justice system in the country.

In order to understand the reason behind it, it is important to look into the two facets of criminal justice: police and the judiciary: after all crime and criminals are nabbed by the police and punishment/justice is delivered by the judiciary. Much has been said and deliberated upon the judicial framework, its shortcomings on delivery of justice and the needed reforms. The present paper refrains from review of this and instead focuses on the other aspect of criminal justice system that is the Police Governance in the country.

The police in this country are the instrument for enforcing the Rule of law; they are the means by which civilised society maintains order that people may live safely in their homes and go freely about their lawful business. Thus police is the law enforcement agency whose fundamental duty is to serve mankind, safeguard peoples live and property, to protect the innocent against deception, the weak against oppression or intimidation, peaceful against violence and disorder and to respect constitutional rights of all men to liberty, equality and justice.

In a wider sense the word Police was used to connote the management of internal economy and the enforcement of government regulations of a particular country. India is multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and vast country. It is the second most populated country of the world. Maintaining law and order in world’s largest democratic country is an arduous task. The police personnel provide for the security of people and enforcement of laws of the country. It determines the manner in which democratic decisions are implemented in the country.

In view of the growing violence, social conflicts and serious threats of terrorist activities, the role of police is becoming even more important. The assurance of equality and dignity to the weaker sections of the society is also dependent upon the performance of the police. Clearly, police has a crucial role in the existence and development of India.

The concept of police as ‘limb of law’ in a society, wedded to ‘Rule of Law ‘expects this executive arm of the government to be depoliticized. “Conversely, the police organization cannot be left to its own also, because the job of policing requires political direction and discretionary interpretations, subject to the overall control of the judiciary of the country.

The Indian Constitution, taking its inspiration from history and the free democracies of the world, envisages a representative legislature, a responsible executive and an independent judiciary, as an integral part of parliamentary system of government. The police organization, essentially constitutes the core administrative bureaucracy, is quite centrally or organically linked with all the three organs of the democratic government.

The police administration being responsible to all the three organs of the government has regular contacts with them. “Engaged in performing this very unpleasant task which is equally sensitive, the policeman has an onerous responsibility of maintaining this equilibrium. His loyalty to law, law-makers and the guardians of the legal procedures are in built in the game of policing.”


The word ‘Police’ is derived from the Greek word ‘Politeia’ or its Latin equivalent ‘politia’. The term ‘Police’ connotes a body of Civil servants whose primary duties are preservation of order, prevention and detection of crimes and enforcement of law. In India the great ancient law giver Manu emphasised the need of Police force for maintenance of law and order. He suggested that Police functions could be entrusted to only those who were well acquainted with the local people and were dedicated to the cause of protection of society against law violators.

Though it can be traced that in India Police prevailed in the reigns of Hindu rulers and in Mughal rulers but the British Government enacted the codified Police Law and as a result the Police Act, 1861 for India. This act had been prevailed for whole of India as Bible for Police organisation until the State Police Acts were prepared after the Honourable Supreme Court of India gave directives in Prakash Singh and others v. Union of India and others case in the year 2006 and central government’s Model Police Act (2006). In Assam also the Assam Police Act, 2007 was enacted and enforced for the State of Assam. The study is basically on Implementation of the Assam Police Act, 2007 and to consider whether the provisions of the Act are implemented in its spirit.


Constitution of a state is a core document having a special legal sanctity which sets out the frame work and the principal functions of the organs of the Government of the State and declares the principles governing the operation of those organs. Constitution is the foremost law of the country and all the laws of the country are enacted under the constitution and this constitution in its seventh schedule placed police in entry 2 of List II- state list.

Police as a complete State subject must be governed under State Police Acts and Rules but it is the greatest tragedy of the people that the colonial police Act of 1861 which is for whole India governed the Assam Police also till 2007. Police was present in India during ancient period, medieval period but systematic police was found to be present during the British rule. The police force in India during the British period was designated under the exigencies of this organisation before and after 1857 provides a clear picture of British thinking and intentions. It also helps in explaining what they intended its role to be.

The former was clearly what the police from anywhere in any society and in any state, while the later was governed by their political expediency. After the grant of Diwani rights in Bengal in 1757 the East India Company found itself in a role that it must never have contemplated. Collection of revenue meant protection of interests, which implied policing functions of sorts. The policing was not taken away from the Zamindars till 1792. The cardinal principle of the administration of criminal justice and the police set up by Lord Cornawallis in 1792-93 was a complete separation of judiciary and executive from revenue functions. Lord Cornawallis pointed out the weakness of policing under the Zamindars and opined for a select committee of parliament in 1812. The shortcomings and inefficiency of this system was clearly visible to the enlightened British opinion.

The police commission of 1838 observed that the inefficiency of that system is in a great measure attributable to the inadequate scale on which it has been carried on. In 1843, Sir Charles Napier realised that only under a recognised organisation, the police could function properly and produce desired results and he took, as his model, the Royal Irish Constabulary. Napier’s Police system was based on principle, the police must be completely separated from the military and they must be an independent body to assist the collectors in discharging their responsibilities for law and order but under their own officer.

There was an Inspector General of police for the entire territory, with Superintendent in each district. The Superintendent was responsible to the Inspector General as well as collector. This experiment was successful and its broad framework was used to reorganise police administration. The main principles of Napier’s model were not altered even by the Police Commission of 1860, which designed the Police Act of 1861.

The Police Act of 1861 was introduced by the British after the First War of Independence by the Indians in the year 1857, the Sepoy Mutiny. The purpose was clear that the British wanted a force to crush the voices of Indian who have dissented the British Rule. Making of the Act may be traced from the early stage of Industrial Revolution when England was facing grave crisis due to socioeconomic transformation.

Sir Robert Peel, the Prime Minister introduced a bill in the British Parliament for the purpose of an effective organized police service in the year 1829, thus created organized civil police in the nearby London Metropolis. The said police managed to control social disorder and as a result it was expanded to whole Europe and America. In 1858 the British government took over the control of the Indian Territory and prompted to reform the police system in the sub-continent on the line of the British constabularies after the success of Peels Act of 1829.

As a result a Police commission was setup and on the recommendation of the commission, the Police Act (Act V of 1861) was passed by the British Parliament. Under this Act a Police force was created in each province of British India and placed under the control of the provincial government. The administration of the police force of a province was vested upon an officer styled as the Inspector General of Police. The administration of the Police in a district was placed under the Superintendent of Police. The British who ruled this country had a twisted idea of using police as an instrument of coercion for their own interest by subtly branding it as “myrmidon of law”.

The Police system introduced during that period was governed more by consideration of maintaining control of dictatorial rule rather than providing service to the people. The Police Act, 1861 enabled to form a well organized and well-structured police force only to serve the interest of the colonial masters. The Police system introduced during that period was governed more by consideration of maintaining control of dictatorial rule rather than providing service to the people. The Police Act, 1861 enabled to form a well organized and well-structured police force only to serve the interest of the colonial masters.

However, the Police commission of 1860 established the following principle of Police organization to have impact in the Police Act of 1861 –

  • Military police were to be eliminated and policing was to be entrusted to a civil constabulary.
  • Civil Police were to have their own separate administrative establishment headed by an Inspector General in every province.
  • The Inspector General was responsible to the provincial Government as the Superintendent was to civilian collector.
  • The Superintendent was to super vice the village police.


Envision of Sardar Vallabhai Patel on the role of Police in Independent India speaks, “You have served the previous regime under different conditions. The people then had a different attitude to you, but the reasons for that attitude have now vanished. Now the time has come when you can secure the affection and regard of the people. ”

Police, by the very nature of their functioning, are the most visible arm of the State. While we keep complaining against the Police forces for many acts of commission or omission, the fact is that we cannot do without an efficient and well functioning Police force even for a short period of time. In a fundamental sense, the first and most vital function of the State is the maintenance of public order and peace in society and ensures protection of citizens.

The role of the Police is critical in any society, and particularly in a society with a remarkable monopoly of power in the state in most human endeavours. When Police powers are abused, the weak tend to be more oppressed. Whether it is corruption in the Police forces or indeed in the general run of the administration, or criminalisation of polity, it is always the poor, underprivileged, weak, and disadvantaged sections of society that are at the receiving end.


The fast increasing crime rate in society, aggravated threat to the internal security of the nation on account of insurgency, terrorism, drug trafficking and counterfeit currency etc., and growing regard for individual liberties through agencies like Human Rights Commission, SC/ST Commission and Women’s Commission, reforms in the structure and systems of Police Department have assumed a very critical dimension. Undoubtedly, the police is today very fast losing its credibility and dependability.

The gap between public expectations and police performance is widening every day. The common citizen fears the police and avoids taking its help whereas the criminals violate the law of the land with impunity. On the other hand, the pre-independence image of police as a repressive instrument continues as it is even in the post-independence era. Today the criminals and crime syndicates have access to much greater fire power, faster transport, better communications, and in general a superior technology and speed in decision making.

The Police forces are not in a position to match these criminal gangs given the many inadequacies in their functioning. Given the fact that our judiciary system is archaic, ponderous, excruciatingly slow and inefficient, and the conviction rate in criminal cases is as low as 3 to 6 percent, the pressure on the Police forces to produce results by hook or by crook is always mounting. With most cases taking abnormally long time for adjudication, the Police are seen as ineffective and incompetent worse still, in order to produce short-term results; the Police are often compelled to resort to third degree and extra-judicial torture and punishments.

The most important feature of the Police in India is the high degree of centralisation of functions in a single Police force. In almost all states there is a common Police force for crime investigation, riot control, intelligence gathering, security of state properties, and protection of important citizens. As all these functions are concentrated in a single Police force, many distortions have become inevitable. The legislative officer theoretically gives the incumbent the power to make laws, and keep the errant executive under check through various parliamentary procedures.

However, in reality, the legislators as well as the general public do not perceive the legislative office as one of law making and keeping the executive under check. Even a well-meaning and honest political executive is helpless in enforcing high standards of probity, fairness and competence as it is at the mercy of the legislators on whose continued goodwill and supports its survival depends. As a consequence, integrity in public office at the political executive level and survival in power are becoming increasingly incompatible.


Police have played a crucial role in maintaining peace and orderliness in society. The role of Indian police can be broadly categorized under the following major heads: (i) as law-enforcing agency, (ii) as an arm of the executive government, (iii) as protector of the human rights of the citizens, (iv) as an agency of social service and social change, (v) as an agency for socio-political development and, (vi) as protector of weaker sections of the society. These roles are at times complementary and as well as contradictory to each other.

Indian police often face emotional ambivalence and normative contradictions in the choice of alternatives in role performance. Indian police deserve due credit for playing an important role in sustaining and preserving democracy in India in spite of its multiple challenges and serious organizational handicaps. In dealing with various regional linguistic and ethnic agitations, the role of Indian police has been commendable. In a malfunctioning governing system public order is the first casualty and criminals will rule the roost. In India we see increasing evidence of lawlessness and rise in crime.

Politicization of crime and criminalisation of politics are the inevitable consequences in the crisis of our governance. In the interest of the public, our police certainly require to be reformed and improved to ensure rule of law. However mere tinkering is of no use. Serious and far-reaching institutional changes based on sound principles alone will ensure that the police can function as public servants. These far reaching police reforms combined with electoral reforms and local self-governance will make sure that we have a public administration which is sensitive to the needs of the people and which acts as a servant of people and not as their master.

In the ultimate analysis, good, humane, honest and effective policing is the very essence of any developed civilization. It is incumbent that we undertake police and governance reforms in right earnest to ensure that our democracy is real, our liberty is meaningful, and our society is peaceful and orderly. Over the years credibility of police has taken a nose-dive; at the same time the expectations and demands on police have increased to the extent that police finds it unattainable.

The functions related to security (both persons and places) have grown out of proportion, necessitating diversification of forces from normal duties to vital areas. The detection and prevention of crime was given a back seat in police functioning causing loss of credibility of police as an organization.


It is generally recognized that India is facing a grave crisis of governance today. The manifestation of this crisis-the all pervasive, inefficient state, increasing lawlessness, competitive populism, criminalization of polity, ever-growing nexus between money power, crime, and political power, excessive centralization, serious erosion of legitimacy of authority and extremely tardy and inefficient justice systems-all these are only too evident to all of us.

Perhaps the most visible manifestation of this crisis is the failure of police in enforcing rule of law, maintaining public order or controlling crimes. For a variety of reasons collapse of public order, ineffective policing and delay in giving justice, affect society in an extremely adverse way. Police, by the very nature of their functioning are the most visible arm of the state. While we keep complaining against the police forces for many acts of commission or omission, the fact is that we cannot do without an efficient and well-functioning police force even for a short period of time.

In a fundamental sense, the first and most vital function of the state is the maintenance of public order and peace in society and ensuring protection of life and property of the citizens. The role of the police is critical from this point in any society. When police abuses power the weak tend to be more oppressed. Whether it is corruption in the police forces or indeed in the general run of the administration, or criminalization of politics, it is always the poor, under-privileged, weak, and disadvantaged sections of society that are at the receiving end. Willing compliance with the law, respect for authority, and governance by consent are the foundation of any democracy.

Rule of law essentially means equality before law, and all individuals being subject to the same laws in the same measure. The ultimate test of rule of law is the way the police and criminal justice system enforce law, protect innocent citizens, and use coercive power to ensure compliance of law. The fear of police force is extremely common in most parts of India, particularly in the middle and lower strata of society. A policeman is seen as a symbol of state power and as an agent of coercion and retribution; and not as a friend and protector.

This image was largely a creation of the colonial legacy, when the police force was used essentially to protect the empire from within and to suppress all rebellion or even dissent. This situation is further complicated by an increasingly illegitimate political and electoral system, which is largely based on abuse of unaccountable money power, regular deployment of criminal muscle power and many distortions in the electoral arena. Obviously, such an illegitimate political system is inclined to use the police force illegally to buttress itself.

The general public therefore perceives the police as the ultimate agency of coercion, instrument of oppression and abuse of power. As religion and other agencies of social control have weakened, an increasing need for law enforcement came into being. On the other hand, the police forces are largely ineffective, based on primitive methods and antiquated laws, their capacity to enforce public order or to control crime has significantly eroded. As the political executive largely controls the police, the tendency to abuse the police force for partisan and personal ends is irresistible.

In a society in which power is always regarded as a personal attribute, abuse of power is the norm rather than the exception In addition to these systemic problems, the resources, technology, weapons and procedures available to the police have not kept pace with the need of the hour. Today the criminals and crime syndicates have access to too much power, faster transport, better communications, and in general far superior technology and speed in decision-making.

The police forces are not in a position to match them with so many inadequacies. Given the fact that our justice system is archaic, ponderous, excruciatingly slow and inefficient and the conviction rate in criminal cases is as low as 3 to 6%, the pressure on the police forces to produce results by hook or crook is always mounting. With most cases taking abnormally long time for adjudication, the police are seen as ineffective and incompetent. Worst still, in order to produce short-term results, the police are often compelled to resort to third degree and extra-judicial tortures and punishments.


“Police stations should not be a stall in an exhibition ground. Lathies, boots, lock-ups, canes, handcuffs cannot please people who come there. It is the pleasant behavioural tactics and manners which may make the people happy in a police station”- James Vadackumchery

Developing societies, more so, post-colonial independent states that have adopted the liberal democratic form of government and institutional arrangement for a diverse social setting like India face basic problems of change, transition and growth. Expansion of democratic consciousness and the process of socio-economic change within a welfare democratic polity in a plural society produce complexities and contradictions that acquire different forms and dimensions.

Social change, inevitable in developing societies, brought about by socio-economic policies of the government, set-off new aspirations and new identities that impact on the old exploitative social relationship bringing into fore competing and contending social groups with increased demands that is bound to create social tensions and generate strain on the socio-political system.

The legitimacy of the state, which has emerged as the chief organiser of the society, depends on its capacity not only to perform tasks expected of it by different strata of society but also its ability to play an effective interventionist role in resolving social conflicts, that give rise to public disorders and violence, through a network of institutions for a smooth and peaceful social change and economic development. Neither all police personnel neither are bad nor police is to be blamed only for finding loopholes in law and order loopholes. Police has to work within the parameters established by law of the land. And strictly speaking, police is to be treated as most important arm of the judicial system, the other functionaries of the system being courts, prosecutors and public.

Unfortunately for every failure, police is blamed and the controlling agencies jerk away their responsibility. In such situations police find itself on a very fragile pitch and always suffers. Police organizations have remained static and no machinery could be evolved to have their purposeful interference on terms of equality with other functionaries of governance, with the result that it is made accountable even for the lapses of others.

This Article is Authored by Mr. Pranav Kumar Kaushal, Student B.A., LLB 7th Semester, School of Law, Bahra University, Shimla, Himachal Pradesh.

Pranav Kaushal

Pranav Kumar Kaushal, Content Writter, Law Corner, Student B.A., LLB 7th Semester, School of Law, Bahra University, Shimla, Himachal Pradesh.

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