Even in a country where one is used to seeing police officers being shunted around to different assignments frequently and arbitrarily, the transfer of P.S. Pasricha, former commissioner of police, Mumbai, bewildered the police as well as the people.
Pasricha, who belongs to the 1970 batch of the Indian Police Service, was appointed as commissioner on November 19 last year when the then police commissioner R.S. Sharma was removed for his alleged involvement in the Telgi case. The image of the Mumbai police had dipped to an all time low. The system needed cleansing; the morale of the force had to be uplifted; public confidence had to be regained. It was presumed these important considerations guided the selection of Pasricha, particularly when he was picked above officers senior to him and present in the state at that time.
Why was Pasricha removed when he had served in the post for only 77 days? The government’s answer is he had earned his promotion to the rank of DGP and could not be retained in a lower post. The argument does not wash for two reasons. One, the government must have known on November 19, 2003 that Pasricha was due for promotion to the rank of DGP. Why, then, did they appoint him to a lower post? Secondly, the post of commissioner, Mumbai was upgraded by the government so many times in the past to accommodate senior officers. Why couldn’t they do it this time too?
The state home minister says he went by the rule book. Did he? By transferring Pasricha, the Maharashtra government violated two important clauses of an ordinance promulgated on January 16, 2004. This legislation is known as the ‘‘Maharashtra Government Servants Regulation of Transfers and Prevention of Delay in Discharge of Official Duties Ordinance 2004’’. Two clauses clearly dishonoured by the government in Pasricha’s case are clause 3 (1), according to which the normal tenure for an all-India service officer in a post is three years and clause 4 (1), which debars the transfer of any officer before he has completed his tenure of post. There are, of course, always provisions that allow the government to circumvent the prescribed policy in special cases and it is pretty certain the government must have taken recourse to these provisions to cover up the dishonest decision.
The standards of governance in this country have fallen so low that governments show no hesitation in violating their own policies. The UP government had also formulated a transfer policy in April 1997, according to which only 15 per cent of officers of respective cadres would be transferred in a year. Within six months of formulating this policy, at least 50 per cent of officers in the IAS, IPS and PCS cadres were transferred. In 48 of 76 districts, district magistrates were changed and in 55 districts, superintendents of police were transferred.
Pasricha’s transfer is another instance in the long list of arbitrary transfers of police officers politicians have been effecting with impunity for so long. In August 1979, the National Police Commission stated that transfer and suspension are two weapons frequently used by the politician to bend police officers to his will. At that time, the NPC was appalled that ‘‘transfers were too frequent, ad hoc and arbitrary in nature, and were mostly ordered as a means of punishment and harassment’’.
More recently, the department of personnel of the union government revealed that in several districts of UP and Bihar, DMs and SPs were often transferred within three to four months of assuming office. Between March 21 and September 7, 1997, the then CM Mayawati transferred as many as 467 IAS, 380 IPS and 300 provincial civil service officers.
Frequent and arbitrary transfers obstruct the growth of the police organisation on professional lines. They introduce instability in the organisation. Secondly, they invariably put the right man at the wrong place and, what is worse, the wrong man at the right place. Thirdly, they encourage the system of patronage and impunity, which erodes discipline and promotes police deviance. As the Supreme Court observed in the hawala case judgement, frequent and whimsical transfers, besides ‘‘demoralising the police force’’ and ‘‘politicising the personnel’’ constitute a practice ‘‘alien to the envisaged constitutional machinery.
What is the solution? The Padmanabhaiah Committee on police reforms suggested the power to transfer should be taken away from the political executive and given to the departmental hierarchy to be exercised through a Police Establishment Board. This may not be acceptable to many in a parliamentary system of government. Foolproof laws may provide the solution but the politicians will not pass these. What is required is for civil society to set up pressure groups and mechanisms that help in ensuring that the government frames policies based on acceptable standards and norms and is not allowed to get away with violations.
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