Police complaint authority

From Justice Definitions Project

What is a Police Complaints Authority?  

The Police Complaints Authority (PCA) is an independent body tasked with investigating complaints against law enforcement agencies and their personnel. Its primary purpose is to ensure accountability and transparency within the police force by addressing allegations of misconduct, abuse of power, or any other actions that may violate the rights of individuals. Typically, the PCA operates independently of the police departments it investigates, and its findings can result in recommendations for disciplinary actions, policy changes, or even criminal charges. This independence is crucial in fostering public confidence and ensuring that investigations are conducted without bias. By providing an avenue for civilians to file complaints against the police, the PCA aims to uphold the principles of justice and fairness.


The National Police Commission (NPC) was appointed by the Government of India in 1977 with wide terms of reference covering the police organization, its role, functions, accountability, relations with the public, political interference in its work, misuse of powers, evaluation of its performance, etc. Specifically with reference to police complaints, the committee suggested inquiries conducted by departmental authorities and those conducted by an independent authority outside the police and that a judicial inquiry should be made mandatory in allegations of rape of a woman in police custody, death or grievous hurt in custody and death of two or more persons resulting from police firing in the dispersal of unlawful assemblies. In 2006, the Supreme Court passed a decision for the case "Prakash Singh Vs Union of India" for the Central and State governments to implement its seven directives for Police reforms. The petitioners, including a retired Indian Police Service officer, highlight the violation of citizens' rights due to non-enforcement and discriminatory application of laws. Despite various committees and commissions recommending reforms, there was a lack of implementation. The court issues significant directives for immediate compliance until new legislation is enacted. The seven directives contained the setting up of various authorities/commissions, change in process, and increase in transparency - one of them contained the creation of the PCA.

Conceptual legal definition of PCA

As opposed to a rudimentary understanding of any regulatory authorities established by statutory provision, the PCA is established from the judicial precedent. This is the primary factor for the lack of a uniform or official definition of the very body. Constructing a concise definition from the Prakash Singh case, a PCA can be defined as an independent institution established at various levels of jurisdictions to investigate complaints against police officers of, and up to the highest rank of police official in that particular jurisdiction- from district level to the state level.

Functions and Powers of PCAs

The Police Complaints Authority (PCA) was initially set up by the Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi. As per the Resolution, the Public Grievances Commission was declared as the Police Complaints Authority. Thereafter, the Lt. Governor of the NCT of Delhi constituted the Police Complaints Authority. Following this trend, almost all states have established SPCAs to respond to the need for an impartial and external oversight mechanism. The state-level PCA will investigate only complaints against the police personnel who are below the rank of Superintendent of Police, and the complaints would include incidents involving:  

  1. Death in police custody  
  2. Grievous hurt in police custody
  3. Rape or attempt to rape in police custody
  4. Extortion
  5. Land/house grabbing
  6. Incident involving serious abuse of authority.

While for investigation of complaints against the police personnel who are of and above the rank of Superintendent of Police, State PCAs have powers over matters of:

  1. Death in police custody  
  2. Grievous hurt in police custody
  3. Rape or attempt to rape in police custody.  

What it looks like in databases or on tracking systems (ex. eCourts)

List of state wise links for raising complaints with the State/UT police – it shows that it remains missing or is dysfunctional in many cases. Find the list here.

Any difficulties or problems with existing or common definitions

The definitional problems with the PCA go across many domains. It is essentially a case of non-uniform policy and arm-twisting tactics from the state governments where the constitution or implementation powers have essentially been severely watered down. Different states have laid down different criteria for their composition. Moreover, their recommendations are not binding which clearly goes against the SC judgement on PCAs. Up ahead, a section on further research has been created which looks into these problems. These concerns become so pertinent that they end up varying the definitional grounds of PCA as held by the Supreme Court and the Model Police Act, 2006 followed by the Model Police Bill, 2015.

Problems with Implementation

The case of Gujarat

The Gujarat State Police Accountability Complaints Authority (SPCA) had found only one among 839 complaints it had received during 2022 within its jurisdiction, Right to Information (RTI) replies have shown.

While Gujarat enacted the Bombay Police (Gujarat) Amendment Act, 2007, it set up a state police complaints authority only in July 2013. The report underlines that in a significant departure from the Supreme Court’s order, the amended Act allowed the state government “complete control over the selection and appointment process” of the SPCA by ensuring that two of its three members “are serving ex-officio”; “no set procedure for the selection of the chairperson”; and that there is no transparent process to nominate the third member, a person of eminence.

The CHRI report deduced from the RTI replies of Gujarat SPCA that even the mandate of the authority “is also unclear”. This is also because the amended Act “failed to define” what “serious misconduct, dereliction of duty, misuse of powers” are, leaving the SPCA in a grey area as to which complaints to consider it to be within its jurisdiction.

Report titled ‘Police Complaints Authorities in India – Status Gap Challenges’ by Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative

The case of Telangana

The High Court of Telangana instructed the State Government to constitute the State Police Complaints Authority within four weeks of receiving names of retired SC or HC judges for appointment as the Authority’s Chairman. This was given in pursuance to a PIL filed on the constitution of the PCA in the state. (Reported in 2021)

Problems with the definition and implementation of PCAs

In July, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) mentioned in the Parliament that 24 states and 7 Union Territories had constituted these redressal machinery with some variations like assigning the functions to Lokpal (Odisha) and State Human Rights Commission. (2022)

Delays in formation despite repeated urgings of High Courts - This, despite, repeated urgings from various High Courts including Telangana (2021) and Gauhati (2022). Delhi got its PCA only in June 2019. As late as 2020, only 16 states had them at the district level.

In many states, they are just lame duck institutions due to which people from the remote regions have to travel to the state capital to file complaints – (Bommer v. State of Maharashtra, 2017).

Despite rise in registration of crimes against police personnel, the political executive and the police have not taken favourably to the idea - Haryana assembly introduced an amendment bill taking away the suo-moto cognizance powers of the State Police Complaints Authority (SPCA).

Problematic appointments - Letters of appointment may be long delayed and ineligible persons appointed as Chairpersons in Tamil Nadu and Haryana. The names sent by the selection committee were not considered by the government in Andhra Pradesh, all as a result of “bureaucratic rigmarole”.

Appointments of members with criminal antecedents has raised an eyebrow with the Judiciary highlighting the same - (Rajkumar v Sanjay Saxena, 2021). In many cases, officers themselves are appointed to the PCAs.

Non-binding nature of the PCAs – Despite the SC ruling making it clear that the recommendations of the PCA will be binding on the government, it has not been followed. However, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) 2020 reported that only nine states make the recommendation of PCAs binding and as many as six states do not empower the authorities with suo-moto powers.

The case of Delhi - The information revealed that Delhi only had a state-level police complains authority and complaints of citizens were continued to be adjudicated by internal departments such as vigilance, punishment branch, departmental inquiry cell and others, which were chaired by police officials, thereby raising apprehension of bias and unfair treatment.

Survey was conducted – RTIs were filed - reveals the following figures - The response to RTI applications revealed that in 2019, a total of 5,118 complaints of police misconduct, corruption and abuse of power were received. However, only 309 officers were suspended and 40 were dismissed from service. Therefore, approximately 6% of the total number of complaints were acted upon.

Similarly, in the year 2020, the total number of complaints received was 6,439 and the number of officers suspended and dismissed is 250 and 42, respectively, thereby witnessing a reduce in percentage of complaints acted upon to 4.5%.

In the year 2021, the total number of complaints filed was significantly higher. A total of 7,494 complaints were received. However, there was not much change in the rate of corrective action taken and the number of officers suspended during the year was only 318 and those who were dismissed from service were around 48. Therefore, the number of complaints adjudicated upon was 4.8%.

Police members being appointed members of the PCAs in violation of the guidelines - The Court also apprehended the problem of nemo judex in causa sua which translates to 'no one is a judge in his own case' and provided that the authorities would be headed by retired judges of High Courts and district courts, respectively, and would be composed of representatives from the State Human Rights Commission, Lok Ayukta, State Public Service Commission and retired officers from vigilance department, CID, civil servants, intelligence etc.

Similar terms and what they mean

Interchangeable use/Other terms

Some other relevant terms -

  • State police accountability complaints authority
  • Lokpal and State Human Rights Commission – While the first body investigates into corruption charges against government officials and the second one looks into human rights violations, many a times, complaints regarding the police have also been directed to them. CHRI has put forth the critique that the mandate of the PCA should be clearly delineated for which the SC directives should be looked into along with the Model Police Act, 2006.

Hyperlinks and further reading/sources/Resources








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