A tale of two officers

Print edition : May 04, 2012

Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Damayanti Sen (left) and Joint Commissioner of Police (Headquarters) Jawed Shamim addressing journalists at the State Secretariat in Kolkata on February 20.-SUSHANTA PATRONOBISH Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Damayanti Sen (left) and Joint Commissioner of Police (Headquarters) Jawed Shamim addressing journalists at the State Secretariat in Kolkata on February 20.

How two IPS officers, one in Andhra Pradesh and the other in West Bengal, were transferred after their principled actions turned controversial.

INDIA has, thank God, a number of fine officers in the Central and State governments, which is why at least some decisions are being taken and work is getting done. It is not because these officers do it all by themselves but because they persuade their Ministers to approve decisions, carry out others that are handed down to them and are in the public interest and, above all, act according to their principles and do what is right.

Generally, one never gets to hear of such officers. They do their job and leave when it is time for them to go. But two young officers have been singled out by the media, not because they sought publicity but because of the manner in which they were treated by an unprincipled political executive and a servile bureaucracy.

Both are members of the Indian Police Service (IPS), a service that has some of the finest officers serving the country. One of them is K. Srinivas Reddy, who until recently was Additional Director of the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) of the police in Andhra Pradesh. His investigation and gathering of evidence on the links between the politically powerful in that State and the liquor mafia sealed his fate; he was removed.

The media comment on this transfer and the general criticism of those responsible for it was widespread, but that did not prevent attempts to question Srinivas Reddy's investigation of the case. The officer himself said, as any officer of his calibre would, that transfers were a part of every officer's career and that this transfer should not be seen as anything else.

Srinivas Reddy has apparently been promoted, but to an insignificant post. But he can leave with his head held high. He has not compromised his principles, even when he knew what the consequences of his uncompromising stand would be. And this one act of his must serve as an example to all officers in that State, whether they are in the IPS or the Indian Administrative Service or any other service. There is more honour in doing what is right than in what is convenient. The two are often not the same.

The second officer is Damayanti Sen, until recently Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime), Kolkata. She too acted on her perception of what was right, and in her case it was simply getting a crime registered and investigated.

A woman complained to a police station that she had been raped by four men, and police officials jeered at her, refused to register her complaint, called her names and even made offensive suggestions. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee dismissed the complaint as bogus and questioned the woman's morality, and the Police Commissioner agreed enthusiastically.

K. Srinivas Reddy leaving the Anti-Corruption Bureau office in Hyderabad on April 6 after being promoted and transferred.-G. RAMAKRISHNA

But Damayanti Sen went ahead, following the law, and had the complaint registered and directed that it be investigated. Soon enough, the ugly facts came tumbling out; the woman had indeed been raped by the four men she had named, and three of them were arrested. Unfortunately for Damayanti Sen, the media made her out to be a hero. Some papers even called her the Bengal Tigress.

Damayanti Sen herself told the media, together with a colleague, that the investigation of the rape case was something done by the police system as a whole and not by any one person and requested the media not to portray it in any other way.

She was stating the truth, but she did it to emphasise that no one person meaning herself should be singled out in the process. It was a sane and rational plea to the media to return to reality. But it did not work. Within a short time, she was removed from her post and sent as Deputy Inspector General (Training) in the West Bengal Police to head the police training college in Barrackpore, ironically, just outside her former jurisdiction.

Did the Chief Secretary try to persuade the Chief Minister not to move her just then? Did the Police Commissioner plead the case of a junior colleague, and point out how her transfer would demoralise many other young officers? It can safely be assumed that the answer to both questions is no. But more importantly, should the Chief Minister not have had the wisdom and wider vision to have admitted she had been mistaken about the case and complimented young Damayanti Sen for ensuring that justice was done, holding up her action as something other officers should emulate?

Not long after, in another forum, the Chief Minister indicated that what she did within the administrative structure was her business. She is wrong. Governance of the State is something that the people must at all times know and approve of, and she must know that no one either in her State or outside it has felt anything but outrage at the manner in which Damayanti Sen was removed.

But the officer would, I am sure, be the first to echo Srinivas Reddy's comment that transfers are a part of an officer's career and nothing more should be made of it. And one must defer to the attitude of both these fine officers and leave their transfers alone.

Nonetheless, one can, at least, set down one's sense of pride that there are such officers. Their principled actions will serve the country well, long after the demagogues and time-servers have gone.

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