By giving the Union Public Services Commission (UPSC) a say in the appointment of Director General of Police (DGP) in states, the Supreme Court has taken a simplistic approach to the vexed issue of police reforms. On Tuesday, the Court asked the states to notify the UPSC at least three months before the post of DGP falls vacant and appoint the officer from a panel drawn up by the Commission. The order is actually a reiteration of a directive issued by the court in its 2006 verdict in Prakash Singh vs Union of India. That verdict had taken a nuanced approach to a gamut of issues related to the autonomy of the police force. However, by vesting in the UPSC the power of empaneling DGPs, the apex court transgressed into the rights of states. Tuesday’s directive perpetuates this original sin.
That said, the states cannot be absolved of tardiness in implementing the Prakash Singh verdict. The judgment enjoined every state to constitute a State Security Commission (SSC) “to ensure that the state government does not exercise unwarranted influence or pressure on the state police”. But 12 years after the landmark verdict, less than 20 states have incorporated this directive in full conformity with the apex court’s scheme. The verdict had also asked for the constitution of state-level Police Establishment Boards (PEB) to decide all transfers, postings, promotions and other service-related matters for officers of and below the rank of superintendent of police. In April, a report by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative noted that “while all states have constituted the PEB on paper, only Arunachal Pradesh complies with the directive fully”.
In September last year, the SC started hearing a clutch of pleas claiming that states and union territories have not implemented its 2006 verdict. Here, then, was a chance for the apex court to remove a glitch from its 2006 judgment — course correct like it has done on more than one occasion in the last year. And indeed, there can be no argument against the first part of its directive, which asks states to ensure that a DGP is appointed “through a merit-based transparent process”. But by reiterating that the UPSC is the custodian of this process, the SC has not only lost an opportunity to improve a landmark verdict, it has not furthered the cause of autonomy for the police forces.