To every CM his own top cop?

The sudden replacement of Bengaluru police commissioner Alok Kumar, who was in office for just 47 days, once again brings to the fore the political interference in police postings and transfers, in total disregard of the Supreme Court directive that senior officers should have a term of at least two years. In the past six years, police commissioners have been changed 10 times in Bengaluru.

It has become an accepted norm in Karnataka now to transfer all key police officers appointed by the previous government, a practice which Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa, too, is following. Usually, the axe falls first on officers who are perceived to have been close to the preceding regime.

Such whimsical transfers not only affect the morale of the officers concerned, but also impact effective policing on the ground. This was in full display during the funeral procession of matinee idol Dr Rajkumar in 2006 and the Cauvery-related violence in 2016, when the police woefully failed to control rampaging mobs.

Police reforms have been a talking point since 1977 when the central government appointed the National Police Commission (NPC). The panel submitted eight reports, the final one in 1981, along with a Model Police Act, to “ensure that the police is made accountable essentially and primarily to the law of the land and the people”.

Besides the report submitted by the NPC, various other high-power committees and commissions have examined the issue of police reforms, namely the (i) National Human Rights Commission (ii) Law Commission (iii) Ribeiro Committee (iv) Padmanabhaiah Committee (v) Malimath Committee on Reforms of the Criminal Justice System (vi) Soli Sorabjee Committee on the New Police Act.

With all major recommendations being ignored by state governments for long, two retired DGPs, Prakash Singh and N K Singh filed a PIL in 1996 before the Supreme Court seeking an order that the NPC report be implemented. In 2006, a decade later, the court delivered its judgment, laying down directions to grant functional autonomy to the police by insulating them from unnecessary political interference, while at the same time ensuring accountability and providing a mechanism for redress of public complaints.

The court held that police officers on “operational duties in the field” right from the DGP to those of the rank of Superintendents of Police (SP) should have a minimum term of two years. It laid down that the DGP must be selected by the chief minister from amongst the three senior-most officers empanelled by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) for the post, based on the candidate’s length of service, service record and range of experience.

The court also directed setting up of the Police Establishment Board (PEB) headed by the DGP to decide on transfers, postings, promotions and other service-related matters of officers below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police (DySP) and make recommendations to the government on postings and transfers of officers above the rank of DySP.

Though the 2006 verdict, which the court reiterated in 2018, was expected to end arbitrariness in police postings, the directives have been thrown to the wind by successive state governments. In many cases, senior officers are themselves to blame for their predicament as they have willingly become appendages of their political masters and even openly flaunt their loyalty, rather than being servants of the Constitution.

A toothless body

Premature transfers have a telling effect on professional policing, maintenance of law and order and investigations as often officers are shunted out just when they have familiarised themselves with their jurisdiction.

Karnataka is one of the states where the politicisation of the police force has been institutionalised for many decades now. The PEB is reduced to a toothless body with postings often being decided based on recommendation letters issued by the local MLA.  This has seriously hampered the discipline in the police force as the chain of command is broken, with junior officers prone to taking orders from MLAs rather than from their superiors. Sometime ago, former DGP Shankar Bidari had openly admitted that there was a feeling of insecurity both among police and citizens with “cash and caste” playing an important role in postings.

It is an open secret that different police stations and postings have a price tag depending on how lucrative the ‘collection’ is. As the MLA’s recommendation also often comes with a price, the primary focus of many officers is to “recover the cost” at the earliest as they are not certain about how long they will be retained in the post.

Both serving and retired officers agree that subjective transfers combined with acute politicisation and casteism have reduced the Karnataka police to a demoralised, demotivated and directionless force. It is high time the state government ended the present “distortions and aberrations” in the functioning of the police by implementing the Model Police Act in letter and spirit.

(The writer is a senior journalist based in Bengaluru)

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