Police Reforms In India


To prepare for INTERNAL SECURITY for any competitive exam, aspirants have to know about Police Reforms In India. It gives an idea of all the important topics for the IAS Exam and the Economy syllabus (GS-III.). Various Police Reforms In India terms are important from Economy perspectives in the UPSC exam. IAS aspirants should thoroughly understand their meaning and application, as questions can be asked from this static portion of the IAS Syllabus in both the UPSC Prelims and the UPSC Mains exams. Even these topics are also highly linked with current affairs. Almost every question asked from them is related to current events. So, apart from standard textbooks, you should rely on newspapers and news analyses as well for these sections.


Organizational Structure:
  • Article 355 of the Constitution enjoins upon the Union to protect every state against external aggression and internal disturbance and thereby to ensure that the government of every state is carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.
  • The Police Act, 1861 is still the basic instrument governing the functioning of the Indian police. Under this Act, the Inspector General of Police (now designated as the Director General and Inspector General of Police) is the head of a state police. States are divided into districts and a Superintendent of Police heads the district police.
  • A few states have also passed their own State Police Acts. Besides, other laws like the Indian Penal Code (IPC) of 1862, the Indian Evidence Act (IEA) of 1872 and the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) of 1973 also govern the functioning of the police.


Functions of police:

Based on the Code of Criminal Procedure and the different Police Acts the functions of the police can be classified into the following categories:

  • Prevention of crime including intelligence gathering
  • Investigation of crimes
  • Maintenance of public order
  • Assistance in criminal trial
  • Providing security to vital installations and important persons
  • Service oriented functions:
  • Emergency duties during natural calamities
  • Providing assistance to other agencies
  • Assisting in conducting elections
  • Traffic control
  • Verification of antecedents
  • Helping the enforcement of laws.


Responsibilities of centre and states with regard to police:


Sources: Schedule 7 and Article 355, Constitution of India, 1950; PRS.


  1. Maintaining public order Police Provision
  2. Protecting states from external and internal disturbances

Deploying central police forces

Institute for intelligence investigation and police traning.

People’s Perception of the Police:

Max Weber defined ‘State’ as an organisation that has a “monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force”. Use of physical force becomes necessary when other peaceful mechanisms fail to produce results. The police are the instrument of physical force of the State. They have to bear the burden of failure of other instruments of governance as well. Thus, the police always have to be at the forefront and face the wrath of the public even for the failure of other instruments of governance.

The police have faced and continue to face many difficult problems. In a country of India’s size and diversity, maintaining public order at all times is indeed a daunting task. It is to the credit of the police that despite many problems, they have by and large been successful in maintaining public order. Despite this, the police are generally perceived to be tardy, inefficient, high-handed and often unresponsive or insensitive.


The National Police Commission (NPC) observed:
  • “…in the perception of the people, the egregious features of the police are politically oriented partisan performance of duties, partiality, corruption and inefficiency, degrees of which vary from place to place and person to person … What the Police Commission said in 1903 appears more or less equally applicable to the conditions obtaining in the police today”.
  • The NPC examined the issue of police-public relations in great detail.
  • It came to the conclusion that police-public relations were in a very unsatisfactory state and police partiality, corruption, brutality and failure to register offences were the most important factors contributing to this situation.
  • People also felt that police often harass even those who try to help them; and while by and large people did not think that police are inefficient, they want a change in the style of their functioning.
  • Policemen, in general, did not believe that they are at fault and blamed the system for deficiencies and deviations.
Difficulties Expressed by Police
  1. Excessive work load due to inadequacy of man power and long working hours even on holidays and the absence of shift systems.
  2. Non cooperative attitude of the public at large:
  3. Inadequacy of logistical and forensic back up support:
  4. Inadequacy of trained investigating personnel:
  5. Inadequacy of the state of the art training facilities in investigation, particularly in-service training:
  6. Lack of coordination with other sub-system of the Criminal Justice System in crime prevention control and search for truth Distrust of the laws and courts.
  7. Lack of laws to deal effectively the emerging areas of crime such as organized crime, money laundering etc.
  8. Misuse of bail and anticipatory bail provisions:
  9. Directing police for other tasks which are not a part of police functions
  10. Interrupting investigation work by being withdrawn for law and order duties in the midst of investigation.
  11. Political and executive interference,
  12. Existing preventive laws being totally ineffective in curbing criminal tendencies of hardened criminals and recidivists.

Source: Committee on Reforms of Criminal Justice System


Problems in existing police functioning:
  1. Problems related to general administration:
  • Poor enforcement of laws and general failure of administration;
  • Large gap between aspirations of the people and opportunities with resultant deprivation and alienation;
  • Lack of coordination between various government agencies.
  1. Problems related to police:
  • Problems of organisation, infrastructure and environment;
  • Unwarranted political interference;
  • Lack of empowerment of the cutting-edge functionaries;
  • Lack of motivation at the lower levels due to poor career prospects, and hierarchical shackles;
  • Lack of modern technology/methods of investigation;
  • Obsolete intelligence gathering techniques and infrastructures;
  • Divorce of authority from accountability.
  • Problems of organisational behaviour;
  • Inadequate training; and
  • Entrenched attitudes of arrogance, insensitivity and patronage.
  1. Problems of stress due to overburdening:
  • Multiplication of functions, with crime prevention and investigation taking a back seat;
  • Shortage of personnel and long working hours; and
  • Too large a population to handle.
  1. Problems related to ethical functioning;
  • Corruption, collusion and extortion at different levels;
  • Insensitivity to human rights; and
  • Absence of transparent recruitment and personnel policies.
  1. Problems related to prosecution:
  • Best talent not attracted as public prosecutors;
  • Lack of coordination between the investigation and the prosecution agencies; and
  • Mistrust of police in admitting evidence.


  1. Problems related to the judicial process/criminal justice administration:
  • Large pendency of cases;
  • Low conviction rates;
  • No emphasis on ascertaining truth; and
  • Absence of victims’ perspective and rights.

An overburdened police force

State police forces had 24% vacancies (about 5.5 lakh vacancies) in January 2016. Hence, while the sanctioned police strength was 181 police per lakh persons in 2016, the actual strength was 137 police. Note that the United Nations recommended standard is 222 police per lakh persons.


Various committees established for police reforms:

  • Gore Committee on Police Training (1971-73): Was set up to review the training of the police from the constabulary level to IPS officers
  • National Police commission in 1977: eight Reports covering different aspects of police administration
  • The Ribeiro Committee 1998 on police reforms: It recommended the setting up of Police Performance and Accountability commissions at the state level and also the constitution of a District complaints Authority, replacement of the Police Act, 1861 with a new act.
  • Padmanabhaiah Committee (2000): was constituted to study recruitment procedures for the police force, training, duties and responsibilities, police investigations and prosecution.
  • Soli Sorabjee Committee 2005
  • Vohra Committee Report highlighted the nexus between the criminals, politicians and government functionaries. It stated that the network of the mafia is virtually running a parallel government, pushing the state apparatus to irrelevance, and suggested that an institution be set up to effectively deal with the menace.


Core principles of police reforms:

  • Responsibility of the Elected Government
  • Authority, Autonomy and Accountability
  • Disaggregation and Deconcentration of functions
  • Independence of Crime Investigation
  • Self-esteem of Policemen
  • Criminal Law Reform
  • Professionalisation, Expertise and Infrastructure
  • Police to be a Service


Evolution of Police – Shifting Roles and Perspectives
  • Police before Independence
  1. Suppression of people’s will
  2. An oppressive force
  3. Agent of colonial rulers
  4. Not representative of society


  • Police Today
  1. Law Enforcement Authority
  2. Agency of the government
  3. Operates within framework of law
  4. More representative of society


  • Police of Future
  1. Efficient, professional and people friendly, upholding rule of law
  2. Citizen centric service
  3. Autonomous within legal framework
  4. Representative of all sections of society
Police Reforms:
  1. Organisational Structure of the Police of the Future:
  • Investigation of crimes would be entrusted to a separate, fully autonomous, elite, professional, investigation agency in each state. This agency and the prosecution wing, would be managed by an independent Board headed by a retired High Court Judge, and appointed by a high-powered collegium.
  • An independent prosecution wing, staffed by serving trial judges on deputation, special prosecutors appointed from time to time, and public prosecutors appointed for a renewable five year term would function under the supervision of the same Board, and work in close coordination with the crime investigation agency.
Crime per lakh population has increased by 28% over the last decade (2005-2015). However, convictions have been low. In 2015, convictions were secured in 47% of the cases registered under the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The Law Commission has observed that one of the reasons behind this is the poor quality of investigations.


  • The police station (a part of the law and order police), would be the first point of contact for citizens. All crimes (entailing prescribed punishment of less than three years imprisonment) would be investigated by the law and order police, and more serious offences will be transferred to the independent Crime Investigation Agency. There would be effective mechanisms for coordination between local police, crime investigation agency, and riot control (law and order) police.
  • Local police (under local authorities), in addition to investigation of petty crimes, would attend to other local police functions including traffic management and minor local law and order maintenance. More police functions would be progressively brought under the supervision of local governments.
  • There would be a strong forensic division, with well-equipped laboratories in each district, to support the Crime Investigation Agency (and other police agencies). The Forensic division would be under the control of a Board of Investigation.
  • The rest of the police (excluding crime investigation and local police) would constitute the law and order agency. Metropolitan cities with over one million population can be entrusted with some of these duties immediately.


  1. Police Accountability Mechanism – Balancing Autonomy and Control: State Government and the Police:
  • The first and foremost issue required to be addressed in police reforms is the relation between the State Government and the Police. Public Order and Police are state subjects. The main instrument which lays down the framework of the police system in India is the Police Act, 1861. The Act gives the power of control and superintendence of the police to the State Government.
  • The powers of the superintendence of the State Government over the police should be limited for the purpose of ensuring that police performance is in strict accordance with law.
  • State Security Commission should be established to lay down broad policy guidelines, evaluate performance of state police and function as a forum for appeal from police officers and also review the functioning of the police in the state.

Holding police accountable

In India, the political executive (i.e., ministers) has the power of superintendence and control over the police forces to ensure their accountability. However, the Second Administrative Reforms Commission has noted that this power has been misused, and ministers have used police forces for personal and political reasons. Hence, experts have recommended that the scope of the political executive’s power must be limited under


  • The following provision should be incorporated in the respective Police Acts:
  • It shall be the responsibility of the State Government to ensure efficient, effective, responsive and accountable functioning of police for the entire state. For this purpose, the power of superintendence of the police service shall vest in and be exercised by the State Government in accordance with the provisions of law.
  • The State Government shall exercise its superintendence over the police in such manner and to such an extent as to promote the professional efficiency of the police and ensure that its performance is at all times in accordance with the law. This shall be achieved through laying down policies and guidelines, setting standards for quality policing, facilitating their implementation and ensuring that the police performs its task in a professional manner with functional autonomy.
  • No government functionary shall issue any instructions to any police functionary which are illegal or malafide.
  • ‘Obstruction of justice’ should also be defined as an offence under the law.
  1. Separation of Investigation from other Functions:
  • Police officials entrusted with the investigation of grave offences should be separate and distinct from those entrusted with the enforcement of law and order and other miscellaneous duties. Separate investigating agency directly under the supervision of a designated Superintendent of Police.
  1. Accountability of Law and Order Machinery:
  • A State Police Performance and Accountability Commission should be constituted, with the following as Members:
  • Home Minister (Chairman)
  • Leader of Opposition in the State Assembly
  • Chief Secretary
  • Secretary in charge of the Home Department;
  • Director General of Police as its Member Secretary
  • Five non-partisan eminent citizens
  • It should perform the following functions:
  • frame broad policy guidelines for promoting efficient, effective, responsive and accountable policing, in accordance with law;
  • prepare panel for the post of Director General of Police against prescribed criteria;
  • identify performance indicators to evaluate the functioning of the police service;
  • review and evaluate organisational performance of the police service.
  1. Police Establishment Committee:
  • Establishment Committee shall recommend names of suitable officers to the State Government for posting to all the positions in the ranks of Assistant/Deputy Superintendents and above in the police organization of the state, excluding the Director General of Police.
  • The State Government shall ordinarily accept these recommendations, and if it disagrees with any recommendation, it shall record reasons for disagreement.
  1. Competent Prosecution and Guidance to Investigation:
  • The Law Commission in its 14th Report suggested that the prosecuting agency should be completely separated from the Police Department.
  • The Law Commission (164th Report) recommended the insertion of a new Section 25A of CrPC which stipulates that the State Government may establish a Directorate of Prosecution under the administrative control of the Home Department in the state.
  1. Reducing Burden on Police – Outsourcing Non-Core Functions:
  • The police perform a number of functions, which do not require the special capability and knowledge of police functions.
  • It has been suggested that these functions can therefore be outsourced either to government departments or to private agencies so that the police can concentrate on its core functions.
  • Some of the functions that can be outsourced are the delivery of court summons, verification of antecedents and addresses, which are required in the context of passport applications, job verifications etc.
  • Each State Government should immediately set up a multi-disciplinary task force to draw up a list of non-core police functions that could be outsourced to other agencies. Such functions should be outsourced in a phased manner.
  • Necessary capacity building exercise would have to be carried out for such agencies and functionaries in order to develop their skills in these areas.
  1. Empowering the ‘Cutting Edge’ Functionaries:
  • The existing system of the constabulary should be substituted with recruitment of graduates at the level of Assistant Sub-Inspector of Police (ASI).
  • This changeover could be achieved over a period of time by stopping recruitment of constables and instead inducting an appropriate number of ASIs.
  • Recruitment of constables would, however, continue in the Armed Police.
  • The orderly system should be abolished with immediate effect.
  • The procedure for recruitment of police functionaries should be totally transparent and objective.
  • Affirmative action should be taken to motivate persons from different sections of society to join the police service. Recruitment campaigns should be organised to facilitate this process.
  1. Welfare Measures for the Police:
  • Long working hours, tough working conditions, mechanical nature of job, inadequate welfare measures and insufficient housing means that the police officials are constantly under pressure, sapping their morale and motivation.
  • Radical improvements in the recruitment, training, emoluments, working and living conditions are essential to improve their morale, reduce their frustration and increase their professionalism.
  • Time bound measures for improving satisfaction levels among police personnel by provision of adequate housing and other welfare measures are required to be taken up on an urgent basis.
  • Provision of adequate leave, at least for one month each year, on the pattern of the armed forces would also help provide a safety valve for police personnel suffering from physical and psychological exhaustion due to trying working conditions.
  1. Grievance Redressal:
  • A District Police Complaints Authority should be constituted to enquire into allegations against the police within the district. The District Police Complaints Authority should have the powers to enquire into misconduct or abuse of power against police officers up to the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police. It should exercise all the powers of a civil court.
  • A State Police Complaints Authority should be constituted to look into cases of serious misconduct by the police. The State level Authority should also look into complaints against officers of the rank of Superintendent of Police and above.
  • The State Police Complaints Authority should also monitor the functioning of the District Police Complaints Authority.
  1. Improvement of Forensic Science Infrastructure – Professionalisation of Investigation:
  • There is need to set up separate National and State Forensic Science Organisations as state-of-the-art scientific organizations.
  • At the state level these organisations should function under the supervision of the Board of Investigation.
  • There is need to expand the forensic facilities and upgrade them technologically.
  • Every district or a group of districts having 30 to 40 lakhs population should have a forensic laboratory. This should be achieved over a period of five years.
  • Government of India should earmark funds for this purpose for assisting the states under the police modernisation scheme.
  • All the testing laboratories should be accredited to a National Accreditation Body for maintaining quality standards.
  • The syllabus of MSc Forensic Science should be continuously upgraded in line with international trends. Necessary amendments should be effected in the CrPC and other laws to raise the level and scope of forensic science evidence and recognize its strength for criminal justice delivery
  1. Intelligence gathering:
  • The intelligence gathering machinery in the field needs to be strengthened and at the same time, made more accountable.
  • Human intelligence should be combined with information derived from diverse sources with the focus on increased use of technology.
  • Adequate powers should be delegated to intelligence agencies to procure/use latest technology. Intelligence agencies should develop multi-disciplinary capability by utilising services of experts in various disciplines for intelligence gathering and processing.
  • Sufficient powers should be delegated to them to obtain such expertise.
  • Intelligence should be such that the administration is able to use it to act in time by resorting to conflict management or by taking preventive measures.
  1. Traning of the Police:
  • Deputation to training institutions must be made more attractive in terms of facilities and allowances so that the best talent is drawn as instructors.
  • The Chief of Training in the state should be appointed on the recommendation of the Police Performance and Accountability Commission.
  • The instructors should be professional trainers and a balanced mix of policemen and persons from other walks of life should be adopted.
  • Each state should earmark a fixed percentage of the police budget for training purposes.
  • There should be common training programmes for police, public prosecutors and magistrates. There should also be common training programmes for police and executive magistrates.
  • Training should focus on bringing in attitudinal change in police so that they become more responsive and sensitive to citizens’ needs.
  1. Gender Issues in Policing:
  • The representation of women in police at all levels should be increased through affirmative action so that they constitute about 33% of the police.
  • Police at all levels as well as other functionaries of the criminal justice system need to be sensitized on gender issues through well-structured training programmes.
  • Citizens groups and NGOs should be encouraged to increase awareness about gender issues in society and help bring to light violence against women and also assist the police in the investigation of crimes against women.
  1. Crimes against Vulnerable Sections
  • The administration and police should be sensitized towards the special problems of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Appropriate training programmes could help in the sensitizing process.
  • The administration and police should play a more pro-active role in detection and investigation of crimes against the weaker sections.
  • Enforcement agencies should be instructed in unambiguous terms that enforcement of the rights of the weaker sections should not be downplayed for fear of further disturbances or retribution and adequate preparation should be made to face any such eventuality.


Recent initiatives towards Police Reforms:
  • Modernization of Police Forces Scheme: The scheme focuses on strengthening police infrastructure by construction of secure police stations, training centres, police housing (residential) and equipping police stations with required mobility, modern weaponry, communication equipment and forensic set-up etc.
  • Administrative changes: On the administrative side, changes include separation of investigation from law and order, specialized wings for Social and Cyber Crimes are initiated in several states.
  • Technological reforms: Various technological reforms are pushed including modernization of the control room, fast tracking Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and System (CCTNS) and pushing for incorporation of new technology into policing.
  • Moving towards Commissionerate System wherever appropriate: Recently, Uttar Pradesh cabinet approved implementation of the commissioner system of policing for the two cities, Lucknow and Noida, that will give magisterial powers to their top police officers.


Dual system Commissionerate system
Dual command structure over the district police means that control and direction over the police vests with the SP (head of district police) and the District Magistrate (executive). Unified command structure with the Commissioner of Police (rank of the Deputy Inspector General or above) as the sole head of the force within the city.


Separation of powers of the DM (e.g., issues arrest warrants and licenses) and the police (e.g., investigate crimes and make arrests). Therefore, less concentration of power in the police, and accountability to DM at the district level.

Powers of policing and magistracy concentrated in Commissioner. Directly accountable to state government and state police chief. Lesser accountability to the local administration.

· It gives an integrated command structure which helps in speedy decision.

· It reduces workload of District Magistrate


  • National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID): NATGRID, an attached office of Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), is the integrated intelligence grid which connects databases of core security agencies. It was proposed after the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.
    • NATGRID is very effective in communication and gathering of information, to keep all data on previous intelligence alerts, providing real time actionable intelligence and respond to evolving threats like radicalization through Social Media.


Implementing the Supreme Court’s Directive:

The Supreme Court’s directions in Prakash Singh case 2006 on police reforms must be implemented. The court laid out seven directives where considerable work in police reforms is still needed. In passing these directives the Court put on record the deep rooted problems of politicization, lack of accountability mechanisms and systemic weaknesses that have resulted in poor all round performance and fomented present public dissatisfaction with policing. The directives are:-

  1. Constitute a State Security Commission (SSC) to:
    • Ensure that the state government does not exercise unwarranted influence or pressure on the police,
    • Lay down broad policy guideline and
    • Evaluate the performance of the state police.
  2. Ensure that the DGP is appointed through merit based transparent processand secure a minimum tenure of two years.
  3. Ensure that other police officers on operational duties (including Superintendents of Policein-charge of a district and Station House Officers in-charge of a police station) are also provided a minimum tenure of two years.
  4. Separate the investigation and law & order functions of the police.
  5. Set up a Police Establishment Board (PEB)to decide transfers, postings, promotions and other service related matters of police officers of and below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police and make recommendations on postings and transfers above the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police.
  6. Set up a Police Complaints Authority (PCA)at state level to inquire into public complaints against police officers of and above the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police in cases of serious misconduct, including custodial death, grievous hurt, or rape in police custody and at district levels to inquire into public complaints against the police personnel below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police in cases of serious misconduct.
  7. Set up a National Security Commission (NSC)at the union level to prepare a panel for selection and placement of Chiefs of the Central Police Organisations (CPO) with a minimum tenure of two years.


Smart Policing:
  • The concept of SMART Policing was articulated by Prime Minister in the DGP / IGP Conference 2014 held at Guwahati.
  • Broadly, smart policing involves interventions incorporating application of evidence-based and data-driven policing practices, strategies and tactics in order to prevent and control



  1. Strict and sensitive,
  2. Modern and mobile,
  3. Alert and accountable,
  4. Reliable and responsive,
  5. Techno-savvy and trained


Examples of community policing in India

Janamaithri Suraksha in Kerala

This project is an initiative of the Kerala Police to facilitate greater accessibility, close interaction and better understanding between the police and local communities. For example, Beat Constables are required to know at least one family member of every family living in his beat area, and allocate some time to meet with people outside the police station every week. Janamaithri Suraksha Committees are also formed with municipal councillors, representatives of residents’ associations, local media, high schools and colleges, retired police officers, etc. to facilitate the process.

Benefits of SMART Policing:
  • It promotes pro-active policing by preventing criminal activity through enhanced police visibility and public engagement.
  • Smart policing encourages a system-wide and strategic view of police operations.
  • It encourages focus on outcomes e. reduced crime & safer communities in cost effective ways.
  • Smart policing paradigm promotes integration & interoperability of information & communication systems.
  • These initiatives help to protect civil rights and to make police force more citizen friendly.



The issues of Police are the manifestation of the limitations of the Indian political and social setup. Thus, there is a need to carry out Police reforms and incentivise police department to adopt best practices. Along with that, without further delay, there is a need to build an environment where police become an instrument of service to the people.

Criminal Justice System in India

Criminal Justice System refers to the agencies of government charged with enforcing law, adjudicating crime, and correcting criminal conduct.


  • To prevent the occurrence of crime.
  • To punish the transgressors and the criminals.
  • To rehabilitate the transgressors and the criminals.
  • To compensate the victims as far as possible.
  • To maintain law and order in the society.
  • To deter offenders from committing any criminal act in the future.


  • Police
  • Judiciary
  • Prison
  • Prosecution


An undertrial is an unconvicted prisoner who is on trial in a court of law. The share of undertrials lodged in prisons for more than a year has increased over time as the percentage of cases pending judgment in courts has also increased sharply.

NCRB Data 2018:
  • Number of jails in country: 1387
  • Capacity: 3.5 lakh
  • 8 lakh prisoners are housed.
  • Few jails are overcrowded above 100% and few are above 500% of their capacity.


Under trials:
  • Of the total prisoners, 70% are undertrials and among these undertrials 43% are women. In India, the number of undertrials are highest in the world.
  • The situation of undertrials is very grim if we look at the SC/ST and Muslims data. Near about 55% undertrials are SC, ST and Muslims.
  • At the end of 2019, more than one lakh people were lodged in Indian prisonsas undertrials for more than a year.

  • At the end of 2019, more than 90% of undertrials were not graduates and about 28% were illiterate.
  • Number of unnatural deaths increased from 115 to 231 during 2015-16.
  • These are often people from disadvantaged backgrounds involved in minor and technical violations of the law who are incarcerated due to their inability to pay for bail and/or for good legal representation. Thus, hardened convicts as well as petty offenders like ticketless travellers could end up being imprisoned together for long periods in crumbling buildings with inadequate accommodation and sanitary facilities.


The situation in many prisons is appalling enough to be considered a violation of human dignity as well as the basic human rights of the inmates. Paradoxically, a few individuals, who are powerful, are allowed to enjoy extraordinary facilities not permitted under the rules.


As of Dec 2020, 1.6 crore criminal cases were pending judgment for more than a year across all district and taluka courts in India. Of them, nearly 22 lakh cases were pending for over 10 years.

Case Study: Machan Lalung who was released in 2005 at the age of 77 from a jail in Assam after 54 years in prison for an IPC offence, for which the maximum sentence is not more than 10 years, puts a human face to the statistics mentioned above.


A longer confinement

Due to the high pendency rates in the courts, the share of undertrials confined in prison for more than one year, more than three years and more than five years increased between 2000 and 2019. The share of those confined for less than a year fell in this period

A longer confinement

Due to the high pendency rates in the courts, the share of undertrials confined in prison for more than one year, more than three years and more than five years increased between 2000 and 2019. The share of those confined for less than a year fell in this period


What are the issues?
  • Prison is state subject: Thus, laws and policies related to prisons vary from state to. On the other hand, jail reforms are becoming difficult task as central government finding it difficult to get all the states on board. Even the political will is lacking to initiate the reforms as it would not garner any political mileage for the political parties.
  • Ineffectiveness:The purpose of the criminal justice system was to protect the rights of the innocents and punish the guilty, but now a days system has become a tool of harassment of common people.
  • Pendency of Cases:According to Economic Survey 2018-19, there are about 5 crore cases pending in the judicial system, especially in district and subordinate courts, which leads to actualisation of the maxim “Justice delayed is justice denied.”
  • No voting rights: Strangely enough, there is no bar on contesting elections while someone is in jail, whereas inmates are not allowed to vote in elections. Even the undertrials who have served more sentence than the prescribed sentence of the offence committed are not allowed to vote in the elections.
  • Human rights violation: At first, we are violating basic human rights of undertrials by not releasing them on time. Second, the number of unnatural deaths in jails increased from 115 in 2015 to 231 in 2016. The prisoners are made to live in inhuman conditions, even food served is not hygienic. Lack of ventilation, light, toilets makes the situation even worst.
  • Prisons Act 1893: The act which governs the prisons is the legacy of British rule. Even after 73 years of independence we are using the colonial law.
  • Issue of children: Nearly 18000 children are living in jails only because their parents are in jails. There are no special provisions for these children whether it is education, food or play grounds. There is less focus on enculturation of such students.
  • International political consequences: Many countries refuse to extradite criminals to India on the issue of poor prison conditions. Even in Vijay Mallya’s extradition, same excuses were put forward by accused.
  • Investigation:Police is being a front line of the criminal judiciary system, which played a vital role in the administration of justice. Corruption, huge workload and accountability of police is a major hurdle in speedy and transparent delivery of justice.

Multidimensionality of reforms:
  • We cannot reform prisons in isolation. Judicial and police reforms should also go hand in hand.
  • Poor criminal justice system, poverty, illiteracy are some of the reasons for poor prisons conditions. Because poor, illiterate people are rarely aware of their rights.
  • Even prison conditions are worse than poor people’s houses or lifestyle. So behaviorally they don’t feel much difference. Even the poverty is the main reason for large number of undertrials because accused people do not have money to hire the lawyer or to pay the bail money.


Reforms needed:
  1. Improve criminal justice system:
  • Mali math Committee recommended to improve the criminal justice system to improve the conviction rate and to reduce the undertrials.
  • Separate law & order functions from investigation as recommended by 2nd
  1. All India Cadre for jails:
  • Justice Mulla Committee recommended to create All India Service to bring uniformity in jail operations, to enforce accountability.
  1. Undertrials:
  • Justice Mulla Committee recommended to increase the Public Counselors and using these counselors especially for resolving cases of undertrials.
  1. Sensitization:
  • Government need to reorient, recategorize the jail staff. The jail staff needs to be sensitized for empathy, compassion. This is necessary to reduce human right violation.
  1. Infrastructure:
  • Improve living conditions, cleanliness, and hygiene.
  • Install CCTV cameras to keep watch on illegal activities, harassment by jail staff.
  • Increase budgetary support for infrastructure.
  • Improve security of prisons.
  1. Social and psychological improvements:
  • Engaging prisoners in social and economic activities like agriculture, running radio channels, giving work for prisoners.
  • Educational facilities for inmates’ children
  1. Strengthening NHRC and SHRC for surveying jails, forming policies for jails etc.
  2. Open jails:
  • Open jails can be implemented for petty crimes. Under this system, prisoners are allowed to conduct their day-to-day activities like a normal person and these prisoners come back to the jail during the nights.
  • Uttar Pradesh is implementing Open jails.
  • Rajasthan has 31 open air camps.
  • Rajasthan has even started open jail exclusively for women.


Recommendations of various committees on reforming Criminal Justice System:


  1. Malimath Committee:
  • Malimath Committee (2000) on reforms in the Criminal Justice System of India (CJS) submitted its report in 2003. It suggested 158 changes in the CJSI but the recommendations weren’t implemented.
  • The Committee had opined that the existing system “weighed in favour of the accused and did not adequately focus on justice to the victims of crime.”
  • Recommendations:
    • Rights of the Accused: The Committee suggested that a Schedule to the Code be brought out in all regional languages so that the accused knows his/her rights, as well as how to enforce them and whom to approach when there is a denial of those rights.
  • Police Investigation:The Committee suggested hiving off the investigation wing from Law and Order.
  • Court and Judges:The report pointed out the judge-population ratio in India is 10.5 per million population as against 50 judges per million population in many parts of the world. The ratio is 66 per million people as of 2017. It suggested the increase in strength of judges and courts.
  • Witness Protection:It suggested separate witness protection law so that safety and security of witness can be ensured and they can be treated with dignity.
  • Vacations of Court:It recommended reducing the vacations of court on account of long pendency of cases.
  1. Madhav Menon Committee:
  • Menon Committee on criminal justice reforms submitted its report 2007. The four member panel was set up to draft a national policy paper on criminal justice system.
  • It favours the complete revamp of the entire criminal procedure system.
  • It has mooted creation of a fund to compensate victims who turns hostile from the pressure of culprits.
  • It suggested setting up of separate authority at national level to deal with crimes threatening the country security.


What Courts have observed in various judgements:
  • “A person does not become a non-person after going to jail”. –Supreme Court.
  • “Each district should have one open jail”. –Rajasthan High Court.


Conclusion: Criminal justice is in a state of policy ambiguity. India needs to draft a clear policy that should inform the changes to be envisaged in the IPC or CrPC. All reforms will be in vain unless simultaneous improvements are made in the police, prosecution, judiciary and in prisons. Our policy makers need to focus on reformative justice in order to bring all around peace in the society.

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