In the showdown between the West Bengal government and the CBI, the Union Home Ministry has asked the state Chief Secretary to take action against five IPS officers who had shared the stage with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee during her sit-in protest in Kolkata (The Indian Express, February 8). The ministry is also said to be withdrawing police medals conferred by the Centre to these officers.
A look at the rules officers are to follow, and the action to be taken for any violation:
The IPS officers
In its letter to Chief Secretary Malay Kumar De, the Home Ministry has named DGP Virendra Kumar who was earlier in charge of Mamata Banerjee’s security; Vineet Goyal who heads security, Anuj Sharma, additional DGP (law and order); Gyanwant Singh, Commissioner of Bidhannagar; and Supratim Sarkar, Additional Commissioner, Kolkata. It has asked the Chief Secretary to initiate action against them. Apart from considering withdrawal of medals, the Centre is also said to be considering removing their names from the empanelled list and barring them for a certain period from serving in the central government.
Not many precedents
It is very rare for a police medal to be withdrawn. Among prominent examples, the most recent was that of R K Sharma in the case involving the 1999 murder of journalist Shivani Bhatnagar. After he was convicted by a trial court (he was later acquitted by the High Court), Sharma was dismissed in April 2009 and then stripped of his President’s Police Medal. In 2017, Dharmendra Choudhary of MP cadre (promoted from state police service), was stripped of his medal after the National Human Rights Commission implicated him for a fake encounter.
What officers cannot do
The All India Services (Conduct) Rules, 1968, stress the importance of political neutrality. Rule 3 states that “every member of the Service shall maintain political neutrality”. Rule-5(1) says that “no member of the Service shall be a member of, or be otherwise associated with, any political party or any organisation which takes part in politics, nor shall he take part in, or subscribe in aid of, or assist in any other manner, any political movement or political activity.”
Also, an order of the Cabinet Secretariat dated February 17, 1973, states that “it is felt that in the light of the existing provisions of the Conduct Rules and the instructions already issued on the subject, taking any active part by a Government servant in a meeting or demonstration organised by a political party might cause an impression which may well be construed as assisting to a political movement… In order, therefore, to avoid any doubts about their political neutrality, it would be in the interest of the Government servants themselves not to participate in such meetings or demonstrations.”
Withdrawal of police medals
On May 29, 2017, the Home Ministry issued a circular describing the conditions for withdrawal of a President’s Police Medal conferred to an officer. It states the medal is “liable to be forfeited/withdrawn/annulled” when “the awardee is convicted by any court of law”, or “the awardee is dismissed from the service” or “on the ground of disloyalty, cowardice in action or such conduct as in the opinion of the President, brings the force into disrepute”.
Who takes the decision
Rule-7 of the All India Services (Discipline and Appeal) Rules, 1969, specifies that the “Authority to institute proceedings and to impose penalty” will be the state government if the officer is “serving in connection with the affairs of a State, or is deputed for service under any company, association or body of individuals, whether incorporated or not, which is wholly or substantially owned or controlled by the Government of a State, or in a local authority set up by an Act of the Legislature of that State”.
For any action to be taken on an officer of the All India Services — IAS, IPS and Indian Forest Services (IFoS) — the state and the Centre both need to agree. For any penalties to be imposed by the state government, it is necessary to obtain the the consent of the Union Public Service Commission and the central government. Rule 9(3) states that in every case the record of the inquiry shall be forwarded by the disciplinary authority to the “Commission (UPSC) for its advice and such advice shall be taken into consideration before making any order imposing any penalty on the member of the Service”.
The present case
Before any action against the officers seen in Mamata Banerjee’s sit-in, it will need to be concluded that they were actually taking part in it. In an Idea Exchange interaction at The Indian Express, Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien said about the police officers: “They were not sitting on dharna… They were there for an hour and then they moved on.”
Of the various circumstances for withdrawal of medals discussed earlier, conviction and dismissal do not come into play in the present case. Even if a case were to made out on grounds of “disloyalty, cowardice in action or such conduct”, there would still have to be agreement between the Centre and the state.