In the British-constructed stone building of the Mumbai Commissionerate near Crawford Market, a cream-coloured wall with photo frames greets those climbing the stairs to the first floor where the police commissioner sits. On the wall are 42 framed photographs of former police commissioners of Mumbai — right from J S Barucha, who was appointed on August 15, 1947, to Sanjay Barve, who retired in 2020. There is one exception though — Param Bir Singh, who occupied the office from February 29, 2020 to March 17, 2021, remains missing from the wall.
Singh was shunted out from the post of Mumbai Police Commissioner on March 17 by the Maharashtra government, days after assistant police inspector Sachin Waze was arrested by the National Investigation Agency for allegedly planting explosives outside Mukesh Ambani’ residence Antilia and subsequently killing Thane resident Mansukh Hiran. Singh wrote an open letter to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray accusing Home Minister Anil Deshmukh of setting a monthly extortion target of Rs 100 crore, due to which Deshmukh was recently arrested by the Enforcement Directorate. Singh has been on leave since then. On Wednesday, a magistrate court in Mumbai allowed an application by the Mumbai police to declare him an absconder. In the last seven decades, Singh is the only former Mumbai police commissioner who has been declared as an absconder by any law enforcement agency.
Given the circumstances in which he left, the authorities are not rushing to get his photo up on the ‘wall of frame’.
The wall has been maintained since the early 1950s, said an officer, soon after the first commissioner retired. The second police commissioner post-Independence, M M Chudasama, started this tradition.
Since then, every time an Indian Police Service (IPS) officer vacates the commissioner’s post, his photograph is put in a thick black frame and hung on the wall alongside the wooden staircase laden by a red carpet.
“If a police officer is appointed as Mumbai police commissioner for a day even, his photo will go up on that wall,” said a senior IPS officer serving in the Mumbai police.
Former Mumbai Police Commissioner A N Roy said, “It’s a tradition that is followed in uniformed forces, which helps the force to remember their predecessors.”
A senior IPS officer said it takes a few weeks to put up an outgoing officer’s photograph. Singh was transferred out of the commissioner post nine months ago. “Soon after he left the post as Mumbai CP, we had made a photo frame of Singh and hung it next to his predecessor Sanjay Barve,” an officer said. It was there only for a day though.
“Half the frame was on the coloured wall while the other half went on to the pillar. We had even drilled a hole on the stone pillar and placed it, but as it was asymmetrical and not looking good, we removed it,” an official said. The administration considered whether to put the photograph on the first floor. “But given the present situation, we didn’t want to put just his photograph on the first floor,” another senior official said.
The authorities added that since March they have been trying to come up with an alternative. So far, in Maharashtra, there are five cases of extortion registered against Singh. The Anti-Corruption Bureau has started two open inquiries against him. Also, three non-bailable warrants have been issued by the courts.
During one recent hearing in an extortion case where Singh has been named as an accused, special public prosecutor Shekhar Jagtap had told the court that Singh’s “notorious approach” had created a “bad image” for the police.
“He was transferred from the post of Mumbai police commissioner in March but made DG (Home Guards). His notorious approach for ages together has created a bad image for Mumbai police and other police too,” Jagtap told the court.