Prakash Singh Case: 2006 SC ruling on Police Reforms

  • IASbaba
  • April 2, 2021
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  • GS-2: Structure, organization and functioning of the Executive; Issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure
  • GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

Prakash Singh Case: 2006 SC ruling on Police Reforms

Context: The recent allegations of lobbying by several IPS officers in Maharashtra and of ‘power brokers’ deciding on postings in nexus with the government shows that Political interference in police postings continues despite the landmark Prakash Singh judgment nearly decade-and-a-half ago 

What is the SC’s Prakash Singh judgment on police reforms?

  • Prakash Singh, who served as DGP of UP Police and Assam Police besides other postings, filed a PIL in the Supreme Court post retirement, in 1996, seeking police reforms. In 2006, the Supreme Court gave 7 directives with a view to bring in police reforms
  • 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. Setting up of State Security Commissions (SSC) – lays broad policy guidelines, evaluated performance of state police & ensures state government does not exercise unwarranted pressure
  2. Fixing the tenure (minimum of two years) and merit based transparent selection of the DGP
  3. A minimum tenure for the Inspector General of Police 
  4. Separation of investigation and law and order functions
  5. Setting up of Police Establishment Boards– to decide transfers, postings, promotions and other service related matters of police officers of and below the rank of DySP and make recommendation with these matter of police officers above rank of DySP.
  6. Creating a Police Complaints Authority- to inquire into public complaints against police officers of and above the rank of DySP
  7. Forming a National Security Commission– 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.

What has been the record of States implement SC directive?

  • According to report by Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) notes that the efforts at implementing reforms remain slow, piecemeal and largely regressive. Not even one state was fully compliant with the apex court directives 
  • 18 states passed or amended their Police Acts in this time but not one fully matches legislative models.
  • Not a single Union Territory is compliant with the directives, signalling the Central government’s non-compliance. 
  • Only six States provide security of tenure for their police chief and only 13 States have instituted an internal mechanism to enable the police leadership to make decisions on transfers and postings of State police officers without political interference
  • The CHRI found that 26 out of 28 States have constituted an SSC either through Police Acts or government orders. While Telangana and Odisha are the only two States that have not established SSCs on paper, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka are the only States that make the recommendations of the SSC binding.

How State governments circumvent the SC directives to continue controlling the police?

  • Piecemeal Changes: State legislations has been criticised for being “flawed” and only making piecemeal changes to save themselves from the ire of the Supreme Court that was pulling up states that had not followed its directives. It is also criticised that the state Acts were deliberately formulated in such a way that “it just gave legal garb to the status quo that existed before”.
  • CM special powers retained: In Maharashtra Police Act of 2014, a section 22(N)(2) had been added that gave the CM special powers to transfer officers at any point in case of ‘administrative exigencies’. Thus, while the SC directive was that an officer should not be transferred before the given tenure, CM’s have used this section for mid-term transfer thereby maintaining control on transfers.
  • Ineffective Police Establishment Boards: Several senior officers, some of whom have been part of the five-member PEB, has told that the officers on the committee are ‘unofficially’ informed by the government about which officer would be preferred for which post. Among five officers, even if one or two do not agree, the majority usually sides with what the postings that the government of the day is interested in, thus rendering PEBs ineffective in its functioning
  • Inefficient State Police Complaints Authority (SPCA): In those states in which it was set up, SPCA did receive complaints from public. However, SPCA was struggling to set up offices in rural areas. Several activists had alleged that the SPCA was toothless as it could recommend action against any officer found guilty (final decision rested with the government). Also, the body has struggled due to lack of staff members.


The court’s intention in Prakash Singh directive was to bring this internal decision-making firmly to the police leadership. Continued non-compliance with this directive will only further undermine the authority of the police leadership, affect the morale of officers and blur accountability.

Connecting the dots:

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