Post Article 370: Immediate Police Reforms needed in Jammu & Kashmir

By Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat

It has been more than 7 years since Omar Abdullah led  government in Jammu & Kashmir, before tabling J&K Police Reforms Bill in the state legislature, made the draft of the Bill public.

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Till date, people are unaware of what kind of feedback was received by the Government and what changes the Government had made in the draft bill? The irony is that the police bill was not even introduced in the state legislature. When PDP-BJP came to power in 2015 they also failed to introduce the new Police Bill in J&K assembly. Successive government’s in Jammu & Kashmir were hardly bothered to reform the police force by enacting a new Police law even though it was always needed given alleged police atrocities and human rights violations.

As J&K has been brought under the direct control of Union Government after the abrogation of article 370 in August last year, now the ball is in Government of India’s court. Will they go ahead with police reforms in Jammu & Kashmir as per the guidelines of Apex Court, which has been delayed in past, remains to be seen?

Controversial draft bill

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had been a great critic of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). In his several public speeches in the past, he spoke against AFSPA. When the J&K Police Draft Bill was made public during his tenure in 2013, the draft gave J&K Police powers quite similar to AFSPA. Had that draft bill been passed, it would have been a disaster. Jammu and Kashmir Police Bill, 2013 allowed the state (now UT) to declare any area disturbed, proposing setting up of “Special Security Zones” where “administrative and development measures” are integrated with police response for “problems of public order and security.” The Bill proposed that police be able to set up and arm controversial Village Defence Committees (VDCs). The draft bill received a lot of resentment from civil society actors, activists and opposition parties. The bill finally could not be tabled before the state legislature and the draft was not even modified until NC lost 2014 assembly elections. The PDP led government also failed to enact a new police law in J&K.

Background of Police Reforms

For more than 15 years, the debate around police reforms has revolved around on how to satisfactorily separate police functioning from undue and illegitimate political control and yet keep the police wholly accountable to civilian authority.

The political executive argues that the police must be directly controlled by them and the police argue that the kind of supervision and control that is presently exercised skews the motivation and directions of policing and makes delivering high performance policing impossible.

This is where the key to better-policing lies. It lies in defining precisely the powers and functions of the political executive and police chief. In this model, the political executive retains its supremacy of supervision and control and the police rather than being ‘independent’ or ‘autonomous’ (words that do not have good connotations in a democracy when referring to a coercive force) have ‘operational responsibility’. In other words, by making roles explicit in the statute itself one can achieve the best of solutions; which are on the one hand a civilian executive that lays down policy, provides the means to operationalise it and can hold the police chief accountable for good performance, and on the other a police establishment that has clear goals and tasks before it and is left alone to deliver the protection of life, property and liberty without being distracted by discretionary directions from various sources. Such a scheme that conditions executive powers without diminishing it makes it even more potent.

Model suggested

The supervision, direction and control of the police throughout the state shall be vested in an officer of the rank of Director General of Police (DGP) designated as the state police chief. The DGP shall be responsible to the Minister (Home Minister) for

  1. i) carrying out the functions and duties of the police;
  2. ii) the general conduct of the police;

 iii) the effective, efficient and economical management of the police;

  1. iv) tendering advice to the Minister;
  2. v) giving effect to any lawful ministerial directions.

 The DGP shall not be not responsible to and must act independently of, the Minister regarding:

  1. i) the maintenance of order in relation to any individual or group of individuals; and
  2. ii) the enforcement of the law in relation to any individual or group of individuals; and

 iii) the investigation and prosecution of offences; and

  1. iv) decisions about individual police officers.

The Minister may give the DGP directions on matters of government policy that relate to the:

  1. i) prevention of crime;
  2. ii) maintenance of public safety and public order;

 iii) delivery of police services; and

  1. iv) general areas of law enforcement.

No direction from the Minister to the DGP may have the effect of requiring the non-enforcement of a particular area of law.

The Minister must not give directions to the DGP in relation to the following:

  1. i) enforcement of the criminal law in particular cases and classes of cases
  2. ii) matters that relate to an individual or group of individuals

 iii) decisions on individual members of the police

If there is a dispute between the Minister and the DGP concerning any direction under this section, the Minister must, as soon as practicable after the dispute arises,

  1. i) provide that direction to the DGP in writing; and
  2. ii) publish a copy in the gazette; and

 iii) present a copy to the legislature.

 There is no merit in rehashing the problems. The solutions have been laid down, but from the eight reports of the National Police Commission (NPC) and the reports of the multiple committees that have deliberated endlessly to the MHA’s own initiative of drawing up a brand new Model Police Bill to the Supreme Court’s final orders on reform – all have gathered only dust.

Pertinently the National Police Commission (NPC) was appointed by the Government of India in 1977 with wide terms of reference covering the police organisation, its role, functions, accountability, relations with the public, political interference in its work, misuse of powers, evaluation of its performance etc.

In 2006 as a culmination to all the committee and commission recommendations, the Supreme Court laid out a roadmap for reform. Its order sought to address the extreme politicization of the police, the complete lack of accountability and the dismal levels of unprofessionalism. It’s been five years since the judgment. Every state government has shunned compliance.

D K Basu guidelines

With an aim to stop custodial deaths and torture at the hands of police, Supreme Court of India in 1997 came up with a historic judgment in the case titled D K Basu v/s State of West Bengal. The Court laid down several guidelines which are mandatory to be followed by Police while arresting people under various penal laws. Vide official letter No: D.O 15011/55/2001-HR Dated: 11.9.2001 Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) directed Chief Secretaries of all the state including Jammu & Kashmir to implement D K Basu guidelines in letter and spirit. The operative part of the letter reads as:

“The Hon’ble Supreme Court had in a writ petition filed before it in the case of D.K. Basu Vs State of West Bengal and Joginder Kumar Vs. State of UP, laid down certain guidelines required to be followed while arresting individuals, thereby modifying the laws relating to arrests to that extent. The Judgment of the Supreme Court in the case of D.K. Basu Vs State of West Bengal had already been circulated to all the Home Secretaries as well as Director Generals of Police of all the State Governments and UT Admins on the 2nd of July, 1997 by this Ministry for compliance and report. However, instances have come to the notice where these principles have been violated by the authorities making arrests. This not only violates the law of the land but also results in gross violation of human rights to which we stand committed.”

Jammu & Kashmir Police is accused of violating these guidelines as well. Leaving aside people, the police officials are themselves unaware of these guidelines. People are detained for days and weeks in police stations and magistrates are hardly updated. Even in non-militancy cases, the rights of detainees are violated. The detainee or his relative does not even know the name or rank of the police official making the arrest. Not even a single guideline from DK Basu judgment is followed. When I sought details on this issue using the RTI Act last year, the designated officer (PIO) in IGPs office dispatched misleading information to me. He did not provide any documents related to the implementation of DK Basu guidelines as well. I could not file a complaint or appeal as the J&K RTI Act 2009 was repealed after some time post abrogation of article 370. I will now take up the case with the Central Information Commission (CIC) New Delhi soon.

Recent Police atrocities

During last several months, there have been serious allegations of human rights violations by J&K Police and the fact of the matter is that there is no political interference during policing as J&K has been under Governor’s rule for last almost 2 years and now under Lt Governor’s rule since JK was converted into Union Territory (UT) last year.

We have always blamed politicians for interfering in affairs of police functioning, but why J&K Police is not acting as a disciplined force when there is no political government in place? I can understand the situation when people resort to stone pelting during anti-militancy operations but when police thrash civilians, old and young, men and women even during normal law and order issues especially when people protest for demanding power or water leave a lasting impact on the perception of police as rights violators. Such inhuman acts are unacceptable in a civilized society. It doesn’t mean that people are not noticing all this, they do, but unfortunately, they are scared to open their mouths and this is another tragedy as people can’t even make a healthy criticism of the police force in J&K?

The videos of Nasarullah Pora police brutality had gone viral on social media. Many national newspapers reported the matter as well. Director-General of Police J&K Dilbagh Singh assured to take action against the accused cops but nobody knows what action has been taken? Had this incident happened in some other state, there would have been a huge public outcry and TV channels would have been running the videos in its prime time debates. It seems people of Kashmir are treated worse than animals. More than a month ago in Lassipora village of Budgam dozens of men and women, old and young, were thrashed and one dozen shops and houses damaged by Police when villagers were protesting over inadequate power supply issues. A dozen or more people were arrested and released after a week but reportedly relatives had to pay huge bribes to the police.


The Supreme Court’s directives on police reforms have provided an opportunity for states and UTs to institute a legislative framework that can attenuate if not cure the ills afflicting policing today.

The “cure” however must not become worse than the disease. I hope immediate steps are taken for Police Reforms in Jammu & Kashmir. How long shall our police continue to violate the apex court guidelines? Authorities at helm especially Lt Governor, Chief Secretary and DGP need to take serious notice of the recent police brutalities. The government must without any delay implement the Supreme Court’s directives on Police Reforms in Jammu & Kashmir.

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is a Srinagar based activist and columnist. He is Chairman of J&K RTI Movement and is an Acumen India Fellow. He can be reached at [email protected].