Politics and police appointments

Published : May 19, 2006 00:00 IST

Candidates appearing for a police recruitment examination at Villupuram, Tamil Nadu. A file picture. -

Candidates appearing for a police recruitment examination at Villupuram, Tamil Nadu. A file picture. -

Choice of a clean and upright officer is an aberration. Fortunately aberrations are becoming the order of the day.

TWO senior police officers holding important positions in two different State police forces - Tamil Nadu and Gujarat - are engulfed in a controversy. Police Commissioner R. Natraj of Chennai was eased out of his job recently after repeated demands from the Election Commission (E.C.) for his alleged impropriety making a public statement laudatory of the Chief Minister, which the Commission thought could adversely affect the fair conduct of the coming Assembly elections.

Next, the appointment of P.C. Pandey as the new State Director-General of Police (DGP) in Gujarat has been assailed by some on the ground that he had played a dubious role while handling the post-Godhra riots four years ago, when he was the Ahmedabad police chief. Ironically, this unfortunate individual had only a few months ago been unceremoniously sent back to the State from the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), much before the end of his prescribed tenure. This is also said to be a sequel to the way he performed during the communal riots in his earlier charge.

Both controversies have gone to the Supreme Court. In the Chennai case, it is the E.C. that has escalated the matter. This was with a view to overturning the Madras High Court ruling that the E.C. had no authority to demand (as it did in the case of Natraj) the transfer of a State official even before the election process had commenced through the issue of a notification. In the Gujarat matter, there are reports of a public interest litigation (PIL) before the Supreme Court demanding the annulment of the order appointing Pandey as the DGP.

I have strong views in favour of both the officials but refrain from airing them as the issues are sub judice. Nevertheless, I deem it my duty to educate readers on how police appointments and transfers are made or unmade in this country, especially in the States. An insight into this critical area would tell them how policing is often, if not always, manipulated to suit crass political needs.

It all begins at the lowest tier of the steep hierarchy that the police establishment is. Only some of you may know that there are ten ranks, beginning with the Constable and ending with the DGP. There is direct recruitment to four of them, namely, the Constable, Sub-Inspector, and Deputy and Assistant Superintendents (the latter being Indian Police Service officers appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Union Home Ministry.) Almost every year the Central and State police forces make a massive recruitment to the constabulary. In some places, there are at least hundred applicants for one vacancy.

The competition is, therefore, intense, giving rise to malpractices, such as bribing of examiners and leaking of test questions for a consideration. It is not as if the lower rungs of supervisory staff, such as Inspectors and Sub-Inspectors, alone are guilty of corruption in conducting the tests. Much higher levels have come to adverse notice, and these have generally gone unpunished. Political interference in Constable recruitment is widely known, with the Chief Minister's Secretariat in some States handing over to the DGP a list of candidates who had to be necessarily selected, irrespective of their test performance.

Tampering with mark-sheets (to please political bosses) is a fairly known modus operandus, and some senior officers have got into trouble over this. In some States, the whole of the final list needs the Chief Minister's or his/her minions' approval, while in others, the DGP's discretion is curtailed only partially. It is not my contention that merit is given the go-by altogether. The truth is that many deserving candidates lose out, either because they do not pay up the bribe demanded or they are not supported by the ruling party. The unabashed desire of most political parties is to pack the police department with as many of their favourites as possible so that the latter comes to their aid when political fortunes change. No party is a saint in this matter.

In States such as Tamil Nadu where there is a well-oiled machinery such as the Uniformed Services Recruitment Board (USRB), the selection process suffers from fewer infirmities compared to other States. It has become transparent over the years. This is a model that not many others are willing to adopt because it will cut into their discretion and capacity for money-making in police selections.

The recruitment of Sub-Inspectors and Deputy Superintendents runs into the same problem as that of the Constabulary. In both, the State executive has a large say, despite a reasonably well-designed scheme of tests. Infiltration of favourites, who owe their loyalty to the ruling party, some of whom can also grease the palm of those at the helm of affairs, is not uncommon. No single party holds the monopoly over this undesirable exercise that, without doubt, pollutes the selection drill and impinges on the quality of police supervisory ranks. The deliberate interference in a process that should be apolitical and clinically clean, cuts across party lines.

While I cannot speak about Sub-Inspectors, I can say with some confidence that overall the quality of Deputy Superintendents in States such as Tamil Nadu has gone up noticeably during the past decade. This is a welcome sign that the procedure is becoming proof against blatantly bad choices.

IPS selection is by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) headquartered in Delhi. Until now, to my knowledge, no scandal has surfaced. I am reasonably confident that this reflects the robust security that the Commission has built round the system of examinations for the All-India services. The faith in this apex recruitment body therefore remains intact.

One criticism is that the whole process is skewed by the slight bias in favour of engineers. An unbelievable number of them manage to get into the service each year. I know that the UPSC does its best to moderate between various educational disciplines so that no single field of study has an advantage over others.

In the absence of an intimate knowledge of facts and figures, I cannot assert whether the UPSC has succeeded or not in correcting such a distortion that enables one group of professionals dominating the IPS cadre. The impact of this phenomenon, however, needs to be assessed, especially whether engineers have brought about a difference to the quality of policing. But, I can say with some assurance that recruitment of more engineers has not meant a greater emphasis on science and technology in criminal investigations. This is disappointing.

What I am most concerned with is the havoc that politicians play with postings of officers, right from the police station level. It is an open secret that every Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) would like to have a Station House Officer (SHO) of his choice in every police station in his jurisdiction.

This is with a view to wresting concessions that are irregular, if not downright illegal. Any slightly unfriendly but legally proper act on the part of the SHO is frowned upon by the MLA, especially if the latter belongs to the ruling party. When a series of such decisions are taken by him in the strict discharge of his duties, the SHO is replaced with a more pliable officer. As a result, there is hardly a modicum of political neutrality that an SHO can display.

In this ambience, how can we ever even dream of an apolitical police force in our country? Until we instil some discipline in our legislators that would deter them from browbeating SHOs, policing at the grass roots will continue to be as weak as it is now.

Inspectors are key supervisors who oversee work at police stations. Experienced officers will tell you how an effective and honest Inspector can make all the difference to a growing law and order situation. If you have a strong and conscientious Inspector, he will quell a communal riot at the incipient stage itself. And, I can tell you from my own experience that we still have a large number of this vanishing species.

Here again the Superintendent of Police (SP), the Range Deputy Inspector-General (DIG) and the DGP know whom to post and whom not to in an area prone to disorder. In some States this authority of the DGP has been transferred to the Home Department so that every posting is done on the basis of political acceptability of an individual officer. Money also plays a role in an officer getting a posting of his choice. Can there be anything more obnoxious?

A dynamic and honest SP can hardly be overrated for his impact on policing in a district. Even though his image has taken a beating with the creation of very small districts in recent times, he remains a pivot round which purposeful and people-friendly policing can be built. In earlier times, the choice of SPs was dictated partly by political and partly by professional considerations.

Fortunately, because the number of districts has gone up, many politically neutral IPS officers still manage to head the district police, an important element in a career profile that will equip them for prestigious assignments in the future. The fact remains that he has to manage his political bosses, or else he will be thrown into the dog-house. It is also true that the Chief Minister's Secretariat has a direct line to the SP, ignoring protocol that would require any communication to an SP be routed through the DGP. This is hardly conducive to maintaining discipline within the force.

An SP who hobnobs with the Chief Minister's Secretariat becomes a power centre on his own, and he seldom respects his superiors within the force. Except in rare cases, a District SP is the choice of the Chief Minister or the Home Minister, and the DGP has seldom a say in the matter. This is in utter disregard of professional norms. It is yet another reason why the quality of police administration has suffered.

The appointment of a DGP is most of the time attended by controversy. He is not always the seniormost among the three or four DGP-level officers available in the State at a point of time. I concede that seniority should not be the sole criterion. Merit should no doubt prevail over the tyranny of seniority.

But some positively bad appointments of officers with a dubious past and a poor professional record have led to outrage within and outside police organisations. Officers eligible for this prestigious office are made to lobby for the job, and sometimes, the one with the maximum political clout gets it. The enormous discretion that the Executive enjoys in this matter is something that does not always promote honest and apolitical policing.

Choice of a clean and upright officer is an aberration. Fortunately, aberrations are becoming the order of the day, as I see around me more and more men and women officers of good reputation getting the nod. This trend should get strengthened. This can happen with some strict judicial scrutiny.

Greater is the need for political enlightenment that will make politicians, both those in authority and those in the Opposition, understand that a non-political police leadership is the best guarantee of stability and harmony in society. What is most important, however, is solid public opinion that rises in revolt against bad appointments to head the police.

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