commissioner system in Delhi. According to him, the Delhi Police Act, 1978, was thrust overnight on the citizenry at the whims of an ‘interim’ prime minister, ‘without a popular mandate’ by signing on the ‘dotted line’.
The introduction of the commissioner of police system in Delhi was recommended more than half a century back by the Delhi Police Commission, 1966, presided over by Justice GD Khosla, as a ‘change long overdue’ which did ‘not brook any delay’. The system saw the light of the day only in July, 1978, because of the dour resistance from the bureaucracy. Even in 1978, the system did not come overnight.
The proposal in this regard had been under discussion for several months earlier in the ministry of home affairs, with Charan Singh as the home minister. When Singh left and Morarji Desai took over, the proposal came up.
It was when the then Union home secretary, late Shriniwas Vardhan, informed that the views of Delhi administration were still awaited that Desai, taking adverse note of the tardy and dilatory bureaucratic ways, directed for the system to be introduced without any further delay by an ordinance.
I was a witness to this as one of the officers present at the meeting. The ordinance was later passed by Parliament.
As far as the investigation or trial of a criminal case is concerned, the new system did not make any difference to police powers under any law.
The special offences created under the Delhi Police Act, 1978, all minor and relating to regulatory and enforcement responsibilities of the police too are triable by judicial/metropolitan magistrates.
All the powers conferred on the police under the new system are with due checks and balances. The only change that the new system has made is to do away with the earlier dual control on law and order and criminal administration and make the police solely responsible for the same.
The commissionerate system has stood the test of time. Even in its first year before it had fully settled down, the annual Samagam of Nirankaris in Delhi in November 1978, held under the shadow of violent clashes between Nirankaris and Sikhs in Amritsar and later in Kanpur earlier that year, was managed with the use of minimum force.
Later, the same year, the kisan rally organised by Charan Singh, estimated to be one of the biggest in Delhi, was managed smoothly without any untoward incident.
The Delhi Police has since been handling with professional competence a large number of similar rallies, religious celebrations, national and international conferences, visits of foreign dignitaries, sports events etc. Admittedly, there have been some failures but this is nothing unusual with any law enforcement agency anywhere.
Fault is being found in executive magisterial power to hold security proceedings under Sections 107/117 of the CrPC against persons from whom commission of crime or breach of public peace is reasonably apprehended, a normal preventive measure for prevention of crime or maintenance of public order, being conferred on officers of the rank of assistant commissioners of police.
The legality of the system, which exists even in commissionerates of police in Mumbai and other cities, has been challenged up to the highest court and upheld.
With regard to transfer of some licensing functions to the Delhi Police, it would suffice to say that the system has seen a sea change in functioning after being taken over by the Delhi Police.
Though Delhi was the first city to get the system in northern India, taking note of its better suitability, it has now been adopted in several other states in north India, like Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan.
In Delhi, the system continues to remain under constant sniping from some bureaucratic circles with specious and fallacious arguments in vague terms. They are evidently still rankling at the loss of powers that they enjoyed under the old system, without much responsibility or accountability.
NK Shinghal is a former DGP
The views expressed by the author are personal