Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)
Police Reform in South Asia: Sharing of Experiences
New Delhi, 23-24 March 2007
Police-Executive Relationship in Pakistan
The roots of an estranged and distrustful relationship between citizens and the police have a long historical background. From Mughal times, the state and its representatives charged with the responsibility of dealing with maintenance of order have had an authoritarian relationship with citizens. Later the British with their limited objectives of collection of revenue and maintenance of Raj continued to rule India by keeping the natives on a tight leash. They adapted the office of the Ziladar into that of the district officer who combined the functions of a magistrate, collector of revenue, and the chief executive officer of a district. This ‘three-in-one’ structure based on a strange combination of incompatible judicial, revenue, and executive powers was seriously objected to by Lord Cornwallis in late eighteenth century, but he was overruled by the ‘pragmatists’ who strongly advocated that elsewhere established principle of separation of powers was not applicable in India where administration took priority over all other considerations.
Serious complaints of abuse of authority by district officers were debated in the House of Commons in 1854, and led to the establishment of the Torture Commission in Madras in 1855. Confirming that torture was being widely resorted to by the police to ‘facilitate’ the collection of revenue, the commission strongly recommended the separation of judicial and executive powers of the district officers. However, before this recommendation could be implemented, the events of 1857 turned the clock back, and the British once again decided in favour of concentration of powers in the hands of district officers.
The Police Act 1861 was patterned after the law that established the Ulster Constabulary in Northern Ireland, where the predominant function of the police was simply to control the increasingly hostile catholic majority against the protestant rule of the Westminster. Another significant characteristic of the model was that it firmly established the principle that the constable was answerable to the chief constable rather than the law, the chief constable himself being responsible to central government.
Under the Police Act 1861, the inspector general of police as the chief of provincial police assumed specific responsibilities in the areas of policy formulation and the line operations involved in the execution thereof. His appointment was firmly controlled by central government although, once appointed, he was to act as an advisor to the provincial government on all matters connected with the police administration of the province. As head of the district police, a district superintendent was made responsible for all matters relating to the internal economy of the force, its management and the maintenance of its discipline and the efficient performance of all its duties connected with the prevention, investigation and detection of crime.
Paradoxically, under section 4 (2) of the Police Act 1861, in addition to being under the senior police hierarchy, the district superintendent was simultaneously subjected to the operational – lateral – control of the District Magistrate.
In Bombay Presidency, a separate Bombay Act VII of 1867 was enacted which in ‘clear’ terms spelt out complete subordination of police to the district officer.
The new ‘arrangement’ soon started showing its serious flaws. However, the whole debate was put to an end when Sir James Stephen, Law Member of the Governor-General’s Council (1870-71) and the political philosopher of the Indian Civil Service while observing that “the administration of justice was not in a satisfactory state in any part of the Empire” enunciated in succinct terms:
“The first principle to be borne in mind is that the maintenance of the position of the district officers is absolutely essential to the maintenance of British rule in India, and that any diminution in their influence and authority over the natives would be dearly purchased even by an improvement in the administration of justice.”
It is in this conceptual backdrop that the entire gamut of police-executive relationship needs to be viewed and analysed. What is clear is that the police organisation in the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent evolved principally in response to the political realities of the times. During the colonial period, the basic objective of the system designed by the British was to create an instrument in the hands of the government to control the colony. Thus policing was by and large a one-sided affair where service to the people was rather irrelevant.
The 1861 arrangement, however, began to falter with the subcontinent’s attainment of independence in 1947. With the establishment of India and Pakistan as independent countries, the purpose of governance changed from ‘controlling the natives’ to economic and social justice. Democracy needed the police to be a provider of service to the community, not a force to subdue and subjugate people. The need to redesign the police organisation became unmistakably clear.