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Restoring power to the force

Mumbai’s new police commissioner must resist the creeping political pressure on transfers and appointments.

Updated: February 20, 2014 8:48 am
The public is entitled to the best and in Rakesh Maria, I strongly feel that it has got the best. The public is entitled to the best and in Rakesh Maria, I strongly feel that it has got the best.

Jeroo Mango, daughter of the first Indian police commissioner of Mumbai, came up to me at a dinner party and asked how her father was chosen for the job. Ever since the government delayed its decision to announce a successor to Satyapal Singh, many others, besides Jeroo, developed an interest in the process.

Two appointments in the city are of vital importance to the daily life of Mumbai’s citizens: that of the police commissioner and the municipal commissioner. These two officers should be men of utmost integrity and competence. They should be able to dispense justice to the suffering citizenry, particularly the poor and dispossessed, those who have no voice otherwise. Their goal should be to make the quality of life of citizens much better than it was before. Citizens should not be left to the mercies of police and municipal personnel whose one-point programme is to advertise their own importance.

Soon after Independence, the politicians who assumed power respected and leaned on the higher bureaucracy and senior police officials to dispense justice to the people. This was generally achieved by an unwritten law that allowed departmental superiors to control their own subordinates and place them in positions where they would perform to the satisfaction of the people. Politicians monitored police performance and questioned the chiefs if things went awry. Over time, police chiefs have lost their authority to post and transfer, which has been now appropriated by politicians. This has caused great distortion in the dispensation of justice and has resulted in a loss of faith on the part of the general public.

In the days after I joined the IPS, the inspector general of police (there was no DGP then) had complete authority. He was the father of the force. The home secretary never questioned his judgement and the minister too concurred. Appointments went through smoothly. And no officer approached politicians for favours. Alas, things have changed dramatically over time. Lobbying for assignments has turned into a curse. Politicians have turned the process into an industry.

How was I appointed 32 years ago? I was the junior-most among the six special IGs. I had no inkling I was to be the commissioner of police. The political leadership chose me from the zone of consideration because it felt that I was best suited to tackle the policemen’s union, which was causing concern.

I personally feel that the choice of Rakesh Maria as the new commissioner of police is the correct one. It is unfortunate that as deserving and good an officer as Javed Ahmed missed the bus. He could have been appointed in April last year when Sridevi Goel retired. But the government dithered, probably because Satyapal Singh, the then incumbent, was not interested in a promotion and used whatever clout he had to continue as commissioner. The government’s fault lay in succumbing to such pressures, which present-day officers bring to bear on the present-day political class.

While sympathising with Ahmed, I commend the political leadership for not succumbing further to vote-bank politics while selecting the best man for the job. The government needs to bother about the general public, whose concerns are often forgotten in the exercise of such discretion. The public is entitled to the best and in Rakesh Maria, I strongly feel that it has got the best. He is accessible to the public and enjoys the confidence of the rank and file, which is important.

Maria needs to resist political pressure on appointments and transfers, which is the main cause of indiscipline, corruption and poor performance. He has to ensure that police officers start behaving like servants of the public and not their masters. The dispensation that has engendered corruption has to be fought and conquered. Only a police chief who has the authority and stature to change the police mindset can deliver the goods. I know that Rakesh Maria is capable of doing this. The political leadership should allow him the space to usher in this much-needed change.

The government must vest the police chief with the operational control over his own force. The retrograde step of the Maharashtra government in 1987 to name the home secretary as the head of the department was most short-sighted and disastrous. It was like placing the control of the army with the defence secretary! We missed intelligence on 26/11 because of this. The terror alerts that were received from the Central government for two years before 26/11 were sent to the home secretary as the head of the force, per protocol, and the home secretary had no clue at all about these alerts.

The writer, a retired IPS officer, was Mumbai  police commissioner, DGP Gujarat and DGP Punjab, and is a former Indian ambassador to Romania

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