Delhi Police Down Memory Lane
By Maxwell Pereira
maxpk@vsnl.com

Not everyone knows perhaps that Ganga Dhar Nehru, the father of Moti Lal Nehru, and the grandfather of India's first Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru, was the last Kotwal of Delhi. The institution of the Kotwal that was introduced in India by the Muslim invaders came to an end, one can say, with the crushing of the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny by the British. And Ganga Dhar Nehru, who had been appointed just before the mutiny erupted, happened to be the Kotwal then. This and other little known facts in their Chequered history, do lend the Delhi Police a rich, fascinating, and interestingly picturesque canvas down its pre-memory lane.

The history of Delhi Police may well read as the history of policing in India itself. While material to positively indicate the existence of an organised police force anywhere in the country in ancient India may not be forthcoming, evidence of policing though does find mention in our ancient works that refer to the governance of the peoples of this sub-continent depicting the then existing machinery and the measures adopted to prevent and detect crime. The first evidence of this governance in the shape of law and justice system in India is found in the 'Rig Veda', where dharman was the term used for laws and customs. The king was the personification and embodiment of justice, the role of advocacy assigned to Madhyamsi -- the arbitrator of disputes. At village level, the Gramyavadin was head of the justice system as referred to in the Taittiriya-Samhita. The agency that did the policing was known as Jivagrabh, which could mean 'seizing alive'. This beginning of the art to control and check the aberrations in society could be the foundation of the art of policing in ancient India. With the passage of time, each ruler and lawgiver tried to give a different perspective to the up keeping of law and order in society. Based on these foundations and the need based experimentation that went on over the years, fresh and newer avenues emerged to control society and preserve its heritage.

Historically speaking, Delhi remained the seat of many Empires; and being so, various policing systems were developed to protect the citadel of power. India used to be a fairly united country in the time of Chandragupta Maurya and Ashoka with dis­tant destinations accessible even without the facility of rail­ways, cars or planes, and people travelled freely from one part of India to another. This kept the country united. During the Mauryan rein 'goondaism' was so ruthlessly suppressed that we have the evidence of Megasthenes, a Greek writer, to show that the average daily thefts in Pataliputra, -- a city of four lakhs -- was less than about 100 rupees. Mentions of criminal law indicate that it was not barbarous. During the Gupta Empire, Fahien the Chinese scholar who travelled via Peshawar and Patna up to Bengal from 405 to 411 AD, found no goonda harassing him, with both, travellers and merchants, safe and happy. Huentsang, who came 200 years later, remained in India from 630 AD to 645 AD. During his travels from North-Western Frontier Province to Assam, he did encounter 'goondaism', though, and the Chinese traveller was nabbed more than once.

Conditions had deteriorated from the 9th century onwards when there was no strong central authority, and the highways became unsafe. According to detailed historical records left by the Muslim historians of medieval India, "when Nasiruddin the slave king died in 1266, the anti-social elements were (as one Historian puts it) infecting the very gates of Delhi, assaulting the 'Bhishtis' and the girls who fetched water." Law and order deteriorated immediately after Babar's death, but Sher Shah restored it with an iron hand. Commenting on this period, a historian has recorded -- "from the day that Sher Shah was established on the throne, no man dared to breathe in opposition to him.... nor was there any of his nobles or soldiery or a thief or a robber, who dared to turn the eye of dishonesty upon another's. Nor did any robber or stealing ever occur in his dominions". Then with the decline of the Mughal Empire, law and order again broke down over large parts of India. Except for bodies of soldiers, it was unthinkable for traders, scholars, artists, technicians and the like, to undertake long distance journeys. Still worse in the 18th and in the first half of the 19th century, resulting in people from one part of India never going out to others parts. This affected not only India's unity, but also her prosperity, which went down in the 18th and the first half of the 19th century. When roads were not safe, trade became impossible; prosperous manufacturing towns became mere villages, mainly because their wealth attracted dacoits and robbers.

It was during the evolution of this politico-economic scenario that the famed institution of the Kotwal emerged in the 13th century, which is the first evidence of the origins of an organised policing system in Delhi. Malik-ul-Umara Faqruddin, born to a personal attendant of Sultan Balban, is said to have become the first Kotwal of Delhi at the age of 40 in 1237 AD. Since he was simultaneously appointed as the Naib-i-Ghibat (Regent in absence), he also exercised the authority to give orders concerning the affairs of the State without waiting for Imperial sanction. Faqruddin was known for his integrity and sagacity, which gave him a considerably long tenure as Kotwal, continuing to hold the post also during the succeeding reins of Kaikobad and Kaikhusrau. History records it, on one occasion when some Turkish nobles approached him to secure the withdrawal of Balban's order confiscating their estates, the Kotwal is supposed to have said, -- "my words will carry no weight if I accept any bribe from you." In the Sultanate period, Amir-Dad was the chief executive and Muhatasib was the official concerned with the Police Department, to whom the Kotwal reported from his Kotwali. It has been presumed that the Kotwali (Police Headquarters) was then located in Quila Rai Pithora or today's Mehrauli.

Malik-ala-ul Mulk, appointed by Sultan Allauddin Khilji in 1297 AD is another Kotwal of Delhi that finds mention in history books. He was the most trusted of the Lieutenants of the Sultan, in whose hands the keys of the city were handed over by the Sultan when proceeding to war. The instructions were that the keys be passed on to the Victor (irrespective of who it be) with specific directions that the latter should be served with the same loyalty and faith. Allauddin Khilji's confidence is his Kotwal for being a highly capable administrator is evident from what he once said of him -- "He deserved the Wazirat (Prime Minister-ship). But I have only appointed him the Kotwal of Delhi, on account of his incapacitating corpulence."

When Emperor Shahjahan shifted his capital from Agra to Delhi he appointed Gaznafar Khan as the Kotwal of the new city, at the formal inaugural ceremony of the grand city of Shahjahanabad on April 8, 1648. Gaznafar was also designated Mir-e-Atish, or Chief of Artillery. By 1644 the new Kotwal had made a mark as the Chief of Police, and the Emperor in royal appreciation, elevated him to the rank of Fauzdar of the Doab.

The duties of the Kotwal vividly described in the Ain-e- Akbari, required him to be present at all royal durbars, even though he was subordinate to the Muhatasib. Apart from the cadre of spies that directly reported to the Muhatasib, the Kotwal received daily reports from watchmen about happenings in the city and also maintained his own cadre of paid informers. The routine duties of the staff under the Kotwal included patrolling the city streets and guarding of strategic places. The system worked well under the Mughals and the Kotwal was a much-feared person, since he also functioned as the committing magistrate. This was the genesis of the police system, which bears a close resemblance to the present day policing operations. While this was the scene in Delhi, in the rest of the country though, the police were controlled by Zamindars and often exploited for their own benefit.

For a brief spell soon after the mutiny of 1857, when organised policing was established by the British with the adoption of the Indian Police Act of 1861, Delhi enjoyed a Commissionerate. It remained, through, a unit of the Punjab Police, even after Delhi became the capital of India in 1912. In the same year, the first Chief Commissioner of Delhi was appointed and vested with the powers and functions of the Inspector General of Police. The 1912 gazette reveals that the Delhi district was under the control of a DIG of Police with Headquarters at Ambala. There was a Superintendent and a Deputy Superintendent of Police to command the police force in the Delhi District with a total composition of 12 Inspectors, 27 SIs, 110 HCs, 985 foot Constables and 28 Sawars. In addition, the rural police were under the command of two Inspectors with Headquarters at Sonepat and Ballabhgarh. Three Tehsils together had 10 Police Stations, with Larsoli, Sonepat and Rai under Sonepat Tehsil; Alipur Nangloi and Najafgarh under Delhi Tehsil; and Mehrauli, Faridabad, Ballabhgarh and Chansa under Ballabhgarh Tehsil. 1 SI, 2 HCs and 10 Foot Constables manned each Police Station. The most populous thana of Larsoli had an extra SI and two constables. There were seven outposts at Maqbara, Tihar, Fatehpur Beri, Pahari Dhiraj, Manjholi and Badarpur; and four road-posts at Sarai Sitaram, Safdarjung, Nizamuddin and Sikri. Within the city of Delhi, there were three large Police Stations -- Kotwali, Subzi Mandi and Pahar Ganj. There were spacious police barracks in Civil Lines where the armed reserves and recruits were accommodated.

Going by the permanent registers of Delhi's Police Stations (the FIR and the Inspection Registers) though, one finds records to show that Mehrauli, Nangloi, Subzi Mandi and Kotwali Police Stations were established in 1861; Najafgarh in 1862; Narela and Delhi Main Railway Police Stations coming into being with the turn of the century. The Parliament Street, Hauz Kazi, Faiz Bazar (Darya Ganj) and Delhi Cantonment then followed in 1913/1915, Pahar Ganj in 1936 (though the 1912 gazette does mention its presence) and finally Tughlak Road in 1941 as the country marched towards the threshold of attaining independence.

The reorganisation of Delhi Police came in 1946 when its strength was almost doubled. In the wake of partition in 1947 and the resultant influx of refugee population and corresponding sharp increase in crime, the need for an independent set up for policing in Delhi was felt. It was on February 16, 1948 that the first Inspector General of Police of Delhi was appointed, with the total strength of Delhi Police raised to about 8000 by 1951. Initially there were eight Superintendents of Police to assist the I.G., but then a post of DIG was created in 1956. By 1961 the strength was raised to 12000 considering the rise in population. 1966 saw the constitution of the Delhi Police Commission headed by Justice G.D. Khosla, to go into the problems of Delhi Police. The Commission's recommendations resulted in the creation of four police districts -- North, Central, South and New Delhi. It was the Delhi Police Commission that recommended the introduction of the Police Commissioner system, eventually adopted in 1978 – a water shed year for Delhi Police.

With the population of Delhi and its attending problems of policing multiplying during the years that followed, especially with the onset of terrorism in the country, and on the recommendations of the Srivastava Committee constituted in 1985 in the wake of the Indira Gandhi assassination riots, the strength of Delhi Police has been gradually increased to over 53000, and then with subsequent interventions to today’s strength of nearly 60,000. For policing Delhi now there are three Ranges, nine Districts and 126 Police Stations.

To the first Commissioner of Police J.N.Chaturvedi, goes the credit of having laid the foundations for a new order. The IPS officers of Delhi's own cadre deserve special mention for this transition period because of their contribution in developing, perfecting, and changing the face of the force, to meet new challenges. This was possible only because the very same officers had grown up with the force, nurturing it all the way like a mother does her own child. With their in-depth knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of its members, these leaders were able to place their fingers on the pulse of the force, taking it to greater heights of achievements, year after year, in the past decade and more. PS Bhinder, Bajrang Lal and Subash Tandon then steered the force giving of their best to the Commissionerate. But nemesis visited this force in the form of the ’84 November riots’ to warrant SS Jog for a while, before handing over reigns of the Capital’s police to its own cadre officer.
Ved Marwah, the first cadre officer to head the force, understood the malaise and brought about the much awaited reforms and improvements. Raja Vijay Karan heralded a new dimension by giving the force a humane face and pride in its heritage. Arun Bhagat who succeeded him kept this up. And then Mukund Kaushal added a brilliant chapter to this history with his pragmatic approach, emphasis on establishing the rule of law and introducing the concept of Community policing. Nikhil Kumar, with the dynamism that is synonymous with his name, then took the bull by the horns to battle the much maligned issues of human rights violations and allegations of corruption, while goading the force also towards professionalism and improved detections – which earned him the grudging admiration from even his detractors.

The emphasis on free and fair registration of crime started during Nikhil’s period was not lost sight of by successors Tilak Raj Kakkar and VN Singh. Considered the liberal phase when straightforward policing and accountability was strived for, the strength of his tenure was held against him, to make VN Singh the scapegoat by an unappreciative ‘powers that be’ who cowered behind the weight of statistics rather than the quality of policing services the community enjoyed. So ‘crime control’ became the war cry to rope in the services of ‘outsider’ Ajai Raj Sharma from UP Cadre – a thoroughbred field professional professedly taking reins not to clean up, but battle crime with the gun – typically UP style. The man had his plus points, with an uncanny ability to pick the right man for the right job, and therein lay his strength in winning hearts enough to complete a glowing three year tenure in unfamiliar territory. The political support wielded to advantage by Ajai Raj, was the forte of his successor Radhey Shyam Gupta who wrested the seat back for the cadre, and on superannuation successfully handed over the reigns to Krishan Kant Paul his number two, at the recent ‘change of guard’ on January 31.

Over the years, Delhi Police has also earned the dubious distinction of being dubbed ‘the graveyard’ for its chiefs! For as history records, many an illustrious Head was sent packing ignominiously, at times replaced unceremoniously and overnight, and even called from the football field and asked to hand over charge to his successor. And yet, suffice it to record that there are Chiefs who also have left the seat with dignity to be viewed in public perception, as ‘honourably’.

Of the Commissionerate, it can be said that in its existence of 25 plus years, it has now attained maturity as I am chronicling this period gone by in 2004. Delhi Police is today perhaps the largest Metropolitan Police force in the world, larger than that of London, Paris, New York and Tokyo. Even after attaining statehood, the police continue to function under the Lt.Governor of Delhi. On 16th February observed each year as its Raising Day, the Delhi Police reaffirms its commitment to strive towards improving performance and to gain an image of a people friendly force, to be of service to the people of Delhi; and truly be "with you, for you, always."

Copyright © Maxwell Pereira; 2700 words;
This article originally published in 1990 has since been updated periodically – this being the latest updated version released for publication across the country in different fora on 05.02.2004 in anticipation of the Delhi Police Raising Day celebrations in the year the author retired from the Indian Police Service.

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