Maharashtra Home Minister R.R. Patil is appropriating more and more powers to run the police by administrative fiat
Vasant Vinayak Nagarkar was a freedom fighter who went to jail during the freedom movement. After Independence,he competed in the All India Civil Services Exam and was selected for the Indian Police Service,which he joined in 1949. Nagarkar was one of my first bosses and a very good teacher. He taught me many things about police work. One of the things he told me was that the day politicians began meddling in the postings of sub-inspectors,inspectors and deputy superintendents,the police force would cease to be a professional body and would turn into a mere adjunct of the political party in power. Ribeiro,we must resist such pressures with all our might. They may transfer you or me and we should have our bags ready,but never allow them to interfere with the ranks,because then we,the police leaders,would be presiding over the destruction of the justice system.
Nagarkar was a wise man. His habits were simple but he thought big. Now,when one of the most respected serving officers in the country,Sanjeev Dayal,is contemplating throwing in the towel,I recalled the teachings of my mentor and realised the truth of his premonitions. In 1982,the National Police Commission had echoed the same truths but our politicians just do not care.
Maharashtra Home Minister R.R. Patil now runs the Maharashtra police force with the help of his four personal assistants. Police officers of all ranks approach him for postings and transfers knowing that it is the minister who decides where personnel is transferred. The director general of police has no say on such crucial instruments of discipline. By administrative fiat,Patil has appropriated all powers,including the power to promote or punish. The DGP has been reduced to a non-entity and a figurehead,and I am not surprised that a self-respecting individual like Dayal,the Maharashtra DGP,wants to quit. The home minister phones inspectors directly,ignoring the hierarchy a step that is certain to devalue senior officers.
I was commissioner of police in different days. I could keep my officers and men in line because they knew that I was the arbiter of their fates. If they could get postings of choice from politicians,they would not have recognised my authority. Of course,I had to be just and compassionate while making decisions,because otherwise they would not have respected me and performed poorly as a consequence.
In July 1985,the then prime minister wanted me to take charge of the Gujarat police for a few months till communal peace was restored in that state. The army had been out on the streets of Ahmedabad for five months before my arrival. I made only one request. No politicians should interfere with my decisions on postings,transfers and discipline. This was conceded and enabled me to get the officers to act since they knew that they had to account to me and me alone.
Police officers are discerning about their own interests. If they know that nothing matters except their own performance as judged by senior colleagues,they will produce the results. At present,the personal assistants of the minister,who know nothing of policing and have no knowledge of the competence or integrity of the officers who approach them,are actually calling the shots. The home minister has quoted the Maharashtra transfer of officers act to checkmate a DGP who is not going to fall in line with his wishes. He appears to be bothered about the re-election of his party colleagues in the coming assembly elections,and they want only those SHOs who they feel will help them to win the elections. How much these SHOs can help is debatable,but they can create situations and avenues for political violence. In the meantime,the police force is going to be turned into a politicised organisation incapable of delivering justice to citizens. When rapes and assaults are reported,unconcerned officers will turn their backs on the complainants. In the absence of good professional leaders,policing will only be a dream.
The irony is that the Maharashtra transfer of officers act was enacted at the instance of anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare. His intention was honourable,but the very politicians who were the objects of his distrust have turned the act on its head with Machiavellian determination. The Bombay Police Act and Manual have much stricter rules about transfers than the Maharashtra transfer of officers act. The Maharashtra act should not be applied to the Maharashtra police. The authority of the leadership should be restored,and only those leaders who are men/ women of integrity and competence should be cleared to climb the ladder of promotions. Only then will the public get a police force that is competent and professional.
Meanwhile,Dayal should stay put and fight with the support of the public and his own men,who respect him greatly. The people cannot afford to lose an officer of his calibre and integrity.
The writer is a former police commissioner of Mumbai and head of police for Punjab