Police Reforms – SC directives, NPC, other committees reports

A demarcation in the interest of public order


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 2- Separation of role of District Magistrate and Police Commissioner

The article analyses how could the duel role assigned to an official leads to the problems in certain situations and so suggest the separation of the roles.


  • Delhi Police, having magisterial powers under the Criminal Procedure Code to take preventive action has been criticised for failing to maintain public order and prevent riots in Delhi.

Issue with delegation: Confusion powers with the role

  • The distinction between independent actions, for which no political clearance is needed, by the District Magistrate to maintain public order and by the police to investigate crime and make arrests, was ignored.
  • Maintaining public order requires the District Magistrate to make hard choices but there can be no justification for lack of effective police action.
  • The District Magistrate is expected to consider protest as legitimate.
  • In Delhi, the police did not distinguish between wider political support and violence caused by a few.

Distinction between “law and order” and “public order”

  • The Supreme Court has made a distinction between law and order, relating to individual crime, and public order.
  • Law and order consists of the analysis made by police of the situation in an area and their commitment to firm action and penalties under criminal law.
  • Public order is a duty imposed on the District Magistrate to assess whether it is necessary to rush to the spot where law and order has been breached to prevent violence.
  • The District Magistrate’s role is important in exceptional situations — for example, to prevent a breach of peace at a particular place.
  • If an official is allotted a dual role, this could lead to the displacement of one goal in favour of the other.

Supreme Court’s guidelines

  • The Supreme Court has formulated certain guidelines and rules when it comes to these distinct duties.
  • 1) In Ram Manohar Lohia vs. State of Bihar, in 1965, the Supreme Court held that in the case of ‘public order’, the community or the public at large have to be affected by a particular action as it “embraces more of the community than ‘law and order’, which affects only a few individuals”.
  • 2) In the Madhu Limaye case, the Bench reiterated that “the emergency must be sudden and the consequences sufficiently grave” for imposition of restrictions.
  • 3) In Anuradha Bhasin vs. Union of India, the Supreme Court held that prohibitive orders should not prevent legitimate expression of opinion or grievance or exercise of democratic rights.
  • The Supreme Court has also specifically recognised the importance of the assessment of the role of the District Magistrate, distinct from that of the police.

Way forward

  • Judicial review of roles and proportionality of decisions for maintaining public order requires a policy rethink.
  • Prevention through grievance redress and reliance on the least blunt instruments are critical for legitimacy.
  • The National Police Commission also recognises the coordinating role of the District Magistrate, having more leverage than the police.


The role of the District Magistrate needs to be clearly differentiated from the role of the Police Commissioner.

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