Updated: December 2, 2021 7:51:57 am
These days when retired IPS officers meet on their morning walks, the talk revolves around the antics of Param Bir Singh, the former Police Commissioner of Mumbai, who had been declared an “absconder” by the courts.
The ignominy of being tagged as an “absconder” is not visited on too many transgressors of the law. It is certainly the first time in Mumbai city, and probably in the country, that a police official of such high rank has been dubbed an “absconder”. Singh has brought great shame to a service that was established as the first port of call in every citizen’s quest for justice.
Any thought of doing away with the two “imperial” services — the Indian Civil Service and Indian Police — was put to rest by the country’s first home minister, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who took the well-informed decision to continue the elite services under new nomenclatures, Indian Administrative Service and Indian Police Service, so that the benefit of an impartial, honest and non-political body of senior officers would be available to the newly-elected rulers for advice on the promulgation and implementation of laws.
That promise and expectation was fulfilled in the initial decades after Independence when venality had not manifested itself so blatantly in the political class nor in the ranks of the administrators and the law enforcers. Over time, the quest for power heightened the need of political parties for money and muscle to retain or acquire power. Governance deteriorated steadily, faster in some states than others. Maharashtra was one of the last bastions to fall, despite the temptations inherent in engaging with a big commercial city like Bombay (now Mumbai).
The number of officers, both in the IAS and the IPS, who have fallen prey to the temptation of getting rich at any cost, has been steadily rising over the years. This trend has been given momentum by the political patronage embedded in the recruitment of a vast number of state service officers out of proportion to the numbers actually needed. In one year, 56 officers were recruited to the state police service. These officers ultimately end in the two elite services, further adding to the existing confusion.
The relaxation of the age limit from the 24 years prescribed in our time for regular recruitment to the IPS through the UPSC’s combined competitive examination had already opened the doors for deterioration. It is never easy to influence minds that have set ideas of personal importance. Worse, in the rat race to the pyramid’s very top, younger men and women have a head start, causing distortions in behaviour patterns of those who cannot advance any further.
The political establishment wields the power to appoint and transfer. It uses it to get its pound of flesh. Many who were out of the race re-enter through the route of patronage. They are those who will not hesitate to help political bosses to retain power. This was not expected of an independent set of bureaucrats, but those who were willing to compromise and sell their souls saw an opportunity to profit. Those who decided appointments opened the doors to the now common malaise of “lobbying” that used to be frowned on in our day.
It is the choice of a wrong leader that brings on the calamity that has struck a good force like the Mumbai city police. It is squarely the fault of the political establishment to saddle the public with police leaders who have only their own well-being in mind and not that of the people they have sworn to serve.
Now that the Supreme Court has protected Singh from arrest till the next hearing on December 6 and with the Damocles sword of confiscation of his properties hanging over his head, he has resurrected in the manner of a Houdini and reported to one of his previous subordinate establishments for the recording of his say in the extortion cases registered against him. He will surely plead that all these cases refer to his past when he was appointed Police Commissioner of Thane (out of turn, allegedly due to the good offices of a BJP MP known to the then chief minister). Why were these cases filed only after he spoke out against the ruling alliance’s home minister for making shocking demands of monthly “hafta” from the Mumbai police? He can legitimately ask this question.
Just as the state government is using its police to nail Singh, the central government, in turn, is using its various investigation agencies, the CBI and the ED to target the state government. In this state of political conflict, both sets of law-breakers will find it easy to wriggle out of the scams in which they are now embroiled. Anil Deshmukh, the former home minister of the NCP, will find it more difficult. He has been cornered because of the paper trail discovered by the ED. But the other accusation of demanding Rs 100 crore a month from the Mumbai Police through Sachin Vaze, a low-level police officer much sought after by his own boss as well as by the political bosses, is based on an oral statement that will be put to a rigorous test.
It is amazing that Vaze, suspended from duty due to a murder charge, was reinstated against all rules, legal or moral. The piece of paper underlying his reinstatement will reveal the identity of the real culprits behind the reinstatement. Both sides are interested in suppressing that vital piece of evidence from where all inquiries should start. The motive has been established. It was the sordid intention of acquiring tainted money from law-breakers. Vaze, allegedly, was the expert selected for the job. Who made the choice and how was the reinstatement effected against all norms of jurisprudence?
And why did Vaze plant the SUV with gelatin sticks outside Mukesh Ambani’s home? I refuse to believe that an assistant police inspector could do this without the commissioner’s knowledge. And this particular API reported directly to Singh as the entire Crime Branch was aware. It was this relationship between Vaze and Singh that emboldened the former to flaunt several high-end cars in the commissioner’s compound and book a suite in a five-star hotel from where he operated. If the commissioner says he was not aware of these activities, that itself would be enough to sack him.
This column first appeared in the print edition on December 1, 2021 under the title ‘Lawless in Mumbai’. The writer, a retired IPS officer, was Mumbai police commissioner
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