Policing in Mountain Regions

The 1970s were the early days of crafting of new administrative architecture for the mountain regions of what was erstwhile Uttar Pradesh, an administrative behemoth. A new Commissionery, Garhwal, consisting of the western hill districts, had been constituted with its headquarters at Pauri. Ms Kusum Lata Mittal, as its first Commissioner, was shifted from Kumaon to put the new administrative entity into its proper shape. If a Revenue Commissionery has arrived can a Police Range be far behind ? As the new Commissionery was in Uttar Pradesh every one also expected creation of a new Police Range, and thus an arrival of a Deputy Inspector General of Police, a DIG. This writer distinctly remembers the day when Mr Shah, the new DIG, Garhwal Range joined and was introduced to all the Deputy Commissioners and In Charge Deputy Superintendent s of Police, of this new Division, who were attending a Divisional meeting. Mr Shah, the DIG, addressing all of us jokingly observed that soon he will have to acquire some new hobby, say photography, as he will now have a lot of time sitting on his hand, as the new Range, as designed, had neither a crime or a law and order load that justified creation of a Range, and an officer of the seniority of DIG rank !

Mr Shah, the new DIG, himself hailing from Kumaon region and being quite familiar with the crime and law and order situation of the entire Uttarakhand Division was only making a statement that singled out the unique reputation that the hilly regions had always enjoyed i.e. being relatively free from both crime and the usual law and order situation, that was characteristic of erstwhile Uttar Pradesh. With vast regions being hilly, sparse population, more than 60 per cent area being under forests and thus actually under forest management, the latter also having powers to register and investigate, even compound, forest related crimes. Difficult terrain, poor connectivity, very small population, less proclivity to crime and a peaceable nature has dictated and indeed resulted into a district administrative design for this region, right from 1815 onwards. What applies to Uttarakhand today, or the British Kumaon between 1815 to 1858, and even between 1858 to 1947, by and large applies to Uttarakhand of today, in particular, and all other ten mountain States of India. This raises a fundamental poser, should the administrative architecture of Police & Magistracy, which applies to the plains regions of erstwhile UP, i.e. a District Magistrate and a Superintendent of Police, at the district level, and a Commissioner & DIG, Range, at the Division level, be made automatically applicable in Uttarakhand, or should we rationalise the administrative architecture best suited to the crime and law and order profile, as justifies a revised architecture ? Most of the States of India are under heavy burdens of public debt and Prime Minister’s call of ‘less government & more governance’ needs to be applied to rationalisation of administrative expenditure suiting the justification, for segment and department of governance.

In Charge Dy SP and Peshkaris

To put the discussion in its right perspective let it also be shared that realizing the relatively peaceful and crime-free situation in remote hilly regions excepting the established districts like Naini Tal most of the districts were headed by what they were designated as In Charge Deputy Superintendant of Police, i.e. head of the district police set up but not in the full-fledged Superintendent pay scale. Economy in police expenditure, hence policing, was justified as the position of crime and situation of law and order, as compared to the averages in the districts justified it and the vast interior regions could be continued to be looked after, as these have been since the onset of the colonial rule way back in 1815, in these parts. Not only police, and policing, but where the load of revenue work was also not according to the general average a sub-Tehsil administrative unit was also evolved, a Peshkari, where a Naib Tehsildar rank of official carried out all revenue operations and was a counter part of In Charge principle i.e. same powers but the office manned by a relatively junior official. So, given a far less load of work in the hilly regions, in UP days, administrative innovations in the form of In Charge SP, in police and Peshkari, in revenue work, was continued. The question is given the ever growing increase in administrative and non-developmental expenditure isn’t there a case to not only continue the very same principles of rationalising non-plan expenditures according to the load of work, both in police and revenue departments, but also examine the situation in all other sectors and departments ?

Evolution and expansion of Policing    

Policing in colonial India came on its own only after the departure of East India Company and beginning of direct rule of the British Parliament, in 1858, after the Great Sepoy Mutiny. Chronologically, the district revenue administration dates back to early 1760s, when the E.I. Company approved Verlest’s mode of revenue management in the three districts of erstwhile Bengal. Commissioner’s of Revenue and Circuit, as an office, came in 1829 with the division of the entire Bengal Presidency into 10 Divisions, and the Commissioner also became the Superintendent of Police, for the entire Commissionery, consisting of an average of 4 to 6 revenue districts. Soon after the state of Uttarakhand was carved out in 2000 this writer, as its third Chief Secretary ( 2003-5), penned down a few monographs on various aspects of administration, including development, that made this new state unique, in so many respects. One particular uniqueness obviously related to this very aspect, a unique policing system that dated back to the emergence of a new system of administration during the colonial times, the Non-Regulation system of governance. As during the current times there is so much focus on reforms in governance, including economics of administration,  and in particular great emphasis by premier Narendra Modi, ‘less government and more governance’, if we are looking for best practices in this field, the Revenue Policing in Mountain Regions, would eminently qualify as a case to be cited. Revenue Police of Uttaranchal is a long monograph that traces the evolution of Revenue Policing in Uttarakhand and it updates its evolution right up to 2005 (  Patwari, Gharat and Chair by R.S. Tolia published by Bishen Singh MP Singh, 2005, Dehradun, pages 1 to 40).                                                                                                                                                                                                           

It was the second Kumaon Commissioner, George William Traill, a legendary civil servant of the colonial period who served for two decades ( 1815-1835 ), who was the real architect of this unique policing system, the Revenue Police system, the one and only system which has hitherto survived all assaults on it since Independence. However, the rationale of having a cost-effective policing system which is yet to be proved inferior, in any respect, to the ‘regular policing system’ that prevails in the rest of the country.

Kumaon Laws Committee, 1925

Efforts have again resurfaced to denigrate, run –down and even do away with a time –tested system and an administrative best practice, the revenue policing in the mountain regions. According to a recent report a serious exercise has been initiated to open up new Police Thanas in some of the revenue police areas. A Sub-Committee of the Cabinet is even said to be in favour of opening new regular Police thana in place of the existing Patwari police jurisdiction. It has also been reported that while doing so, or even prior to doing so, concurrence of the public representatives like Block Pramukhs and Pradhans should also be taken formally. One only hopes that this process would be made more democratic and open rather than merely going through the motions of it. (  Hindustan, 21 February, 2015 ). It is reported that the DG Police and Addl DG Police, Anil Raturi, presented their arguments in this matter. It would have been far better to put their arguments, both justifying introduction of the regular police in new areas as well as justifying their continuance in several areas where their establishment has not been justified on the very same grounds, on the internet and invited comments and suggestions, from all stakeholders. One really wonders how in several districts and Police Circles creation of posts are really justified, on ground of incidence of crime and law and order situations. It would be far better to initiate a healthy debate on the need to extend and open new areas for regular policing and also justify them in the case of each district, Police Circle and Police Thana. The paper should be based on facts and statistics for the various parts of the state.     

It was in 1940s the last time this issue was reviewed by an officially constituted Committee, the Kumaon Laws Committee. This Laws Committee had not only reviewed the Revenue Police system but also matters related to tenure, Nayabad and Water Mills etc. Time has come to take up all such reforms on an official but in a far transparent manner, through a wider consultative process.

Modernisation & Harmonisation of Revenue Police System

As this writer has already contributed a long monograph on this unique administrative innovation which originated in this mountain region, from the very origins of modern administration in India, and which calls for harmonization with the challenges of the modern times rather than termination without any rational justification, he would like to suggest a few factors that need to be factored in developing a Framework for Modernisation of Policing in Uttarakhand, which could be mutatis mutandis applied to other mountain regions of India, which do not need a mindless and financially unjustified application and continuation, where it has been done without examining similar considerations. Some issues and facts that should be factored in include:

( i ) Examination of crime statistics, institution of criminal cases and their processing, ending with conviction rates, per police personnel or Investigation Officers, including area and poluation, villages covered by the police circle, taking state, district and per police circle averages into consideration,

( ii ) Expansion of connectivity and its impacts, during summer ( tourist )  and non-summer months,

( iii ) Excluding the area under Forest Territorial and Protected Areas of Forest department, where crime is primarily forest related or wild life protection, investigated in most cases by forest officials,

( iv ) Comparison of facilities and resources available to the two systems, regular police versus revenue police ( remember even the Police Chowkidar assistance was not available to Revenue Police before Uttarakhand came into being, as Gram Prahari , and who have not been paid their honoraria for several months now ! ),

( v ) How to modernize he revenue police, given the advances made in perpetuation of crime and the range of criminal cases, on par with the regular police,

( vi ) How to harmonize the activities between Revenue and regular Police on the one hand and Regular and Forest, and finally between Revenue, Regular Police and Forests functionaries in detection and prevention of crime and sharing of intelligence,

( vii ) How to improve communication among various communication networks used by various civil and military outfits ( a scheme called Sah-tarang, was initiated in early years ), and  

( viii ) Harmonization of Policing and Intelligence of Civil and Military organizations, as well as various Para-military organizations patrolling Indo-Tibetan/ TAR, China and Indo-Nepal borders.

Mountain Perspective

A ‘mountain perspective’ is a cardinal necessity in mountain governance not only in development domains only but also in general administration. It has repeatedly been reminded by senior administrators who have served these mountain parts with great distinction that we need to keep the administration in these parts simple, uncomplicated, light and in harmony with the relatively simple and honest people of these mountains and not mix these up with the relatively unscrupulous machinations that generally apply to the metropolitan and mainland cities. It would be best to quote Sir John Strachey, who served Garhwal as Senior Assistant Commissioner in 1850s and who later rose to become the Lt. Governor of the North Western Provinces ( 1874- 76 ) and a Member of the GG’s Council, in Calcutta, one of the highest civil service post in colonial India, to wit:

      “ The more I see this province ( British Kumaon ) the more I do become convinced that our ( British ) system of law, comparatively simple as it is , is far too artificial, formal and complicated, to afford any but most imperfect justice to an ignorant, indolent and uncivilized people.”

That is how and the basis on which a far more simple form administrative architecture was designed and implemented under the colonial system that preceded independent India the fact remains that as the region has advanced in almost all aspects of civic life, relatively speaking it continues to remain far more inaccessible, far less populated and certainly far less prone to the crime and situation of laws and order that has characterised the plains part of independent India, needing a far more expensive and costly administrative architecture than was required during the erstwhile colonial period. Te mountain parts of Uttarakhand in particular, and all other mountain regions, in the rest of India, can and must do with a far lighter, less complicated and costly administrative architecture. The North Eastern mountain states, have a different historical past that has called for a very heavy security expenditure, and in that respect also there is a need to examine introduction of any new administrative mechanism, and that nust be based and informed by facts and figures, as well as rounds of public consultations. Certainly, there is no case to compare manning of mountain police station on the same scale say as a police station in Udham Singh Nagar Turai, or a Haridwar police station, as in remote regions of the three border districts, which remain nearly de-populated during the best part of the year, or remain snow-bound, with almost no burden of law and order, and hardly any crime. A ‘mountain perspective’ has as much application to administrative matters as these are now in development matters.


As this writer now lives during the best part of the year in remote Munsyari he would like to go on record that even though Munsyari boasts of a regular Police Thana he keeps wondering whether he has seen men in uniform at the sub-divisional headquarters at any period other than the week in May when the annual Johar Club Football tournament takes place and when the men in uniform are as much a part of the annual exvaganza, as are the thirty odd football teams in their club uniforms. What the police thana staff does during the remaining 355 days of the year remains as much a mystery to him as it does to the rest of the population ? The situation has slightly improved of late, as the region has become a part of Chief Minister’s MLA constituency, increasing their deployment, as the Chief Minister is a frequent visitor, a few hours every four months or so ! If a work-audit is undertaken one wonders how many SPs and Cos posts could be justified in the 10 mountain districts of the state, one cannot help wondering ? Did the Cabinet Sub Committee look at this aspect, one is left wondering ? High time when all departments are made amenable to work-audit before any further expansion of administrative architecture is undertak

R S Tolia

Late Dr. R.S. Tolia, Ph.D., was former Chief Secretary ( 2003-05 ) and Chief Information Commissioner ( 2005-10) of Uttarakhand. He also served in various voluntary positions after retirement and devoted his time for Mountain Development Agenda.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Security Code *

  1. We welcome any feedback, questions or comments