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Police transfers jump in election years; Haryana, UP lead the way: Report

Of 36 states and union territories (UTs) across the country, none had fully complied with police reforms ordered by the Supreme Court (SC) in 2006 with the aim to curb political interference

Mehta | IndiaSpend 

Indian policemen stand guard at a base camp for a Hindu pilgrimage to the holy cave of Amarnath, where Hindu worship an ice stalagmite that they believe to be the symbol of Lord Shiva, near Pahalgam, in the Kashmir region
Indian policemen stand guard at a base camp for a Hindu pilgrimage to the holy cave of Amarnath.

In Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, 125 per cent and 121 per cent of senior superintendents of police (SSPs) and deputy inspector generals (DIGs) were transferred in less than two years, respectively, between 2007 and 2016, according to a new report.

This means that a single officer was transferred multiple times in two years. These states had the most transfers across India, said the report by Common Cause, a nonprofit.

Although the number of DIGs and SSPs prematurely transferred in 22 states across India reduced from 37 per cent in 2007 to 13 per cent in 2016, the report found a seeming “direct relationship between elections and transfers”, as transfers increased significantly during election years, hinting at substantial political interference.

The situation is not unique to these two states, however, as a 2018 report by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), a New Delhi-based human rights advocacy, showed. Of 36 states and union territories (UTs) across the country, none had fully complied with ordered by the Supreme Court (SC) in 2006 with the aim to curb political interference in the Indian police force and raise public accountability.

In 2006, following a petition by Prakash Singh, former director general of Uttar Pradesh (UP) Police and chief of the Border Security Force, the SC had ordered all states to implement six reform measures: to set up a State Security Commission (SSC) to lay down broad policy guidelines and directions for the state police to operate without political interference; mandate a minimum tenure for heads of police; separate the law and order-enforcement units from the investigation units, establish a police-run board to determine transfers and postings; and set up a complaints cell in every district to foster public trust in the police.

But in April 2018, the CHRI found that:

  • No state/UT had fully implemented any of the six directives; 27 had tried to set up a State Security Commission but had omitted several important guidelines, and 17 had introduced the reform to separate law and order from investigation units.
  • Only one state (Nagaland) had introduced a minimum two-year tenure for its director general of police (DGP). But more states (six) had introduced this for their inspector general of police (IGP). These included: Odisha, Nagaland, Manipur, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh.
  • Although 27 states/UTs had introduced the police establishment board (PEB) to determine transfers and postings, and 24 had set up a police complaints cell to cultivate public trust, only one state each (Arunachal Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh respectively) had fully followed the guidelines.

Little has changed since the publication of the report in 2018, as the Common Cause report shows.

Across 22 states, 25 per cent of SSPs and DIGs transferred between 2007 and 2016 were transferred in less than two years.

Transfers increased significantly during election years in several states, most notably in Rajasthan, where 98 per cent of SSPs and DIGs were transferred in 2013. In Haryana, 32 per cent were transferred in 2013, and in Jharkhand, 28 per cent to 53 per cent were transferred during all election years, the report says.

Even in states in which the incumbent party remained in power, transfers were more numerous than average. In Gujarat in 2012, an election year, transfers of DIGs and SSPs increased to 80.6 per cent, up from 23.7 per cent in 2008. In 2013, an election year for Chhattisgarh, transfers increased to 63.5 per cent from 36 per cent in 2012.

“The crux of this [police reforms] is that there is just no political will to bring in checks and balances--not much has changed since our report,” Devika Prasad, coordinator of the Programme at CHRI, told IndiaSpend. “The problem is that the executive sees it [police reforms] as a lessening of power. But that’s not the democratic way.”

The police must strike a balance between being the agency of law-enforcement as well as accountable to the wider public, the Common Cause report emphasised. And, as democratically elected representatives, the executive must monitor the overall functioning of the police, the CHRI report said, adding, however, that the police must be independent in its quotidian functions, especially relating to administration (promotions, transfers, postings, etc.) and law-enforcement (when/whom to investigate, arrest, search, etc.).

How states can protect police independence

The Model Police Act

Shortly after the SC judgement in 2006, the Model Police Act was drafted to help states incorporate the reforms as directed. By 2018, 11 states and Delhi were yet to implement a Police Act, the report said; their legislations had either not been drafted or had been drafted and tabled in the legislature without any progress.

“Only 17 states in India have passed police legislation, but they are yet to take the Model Police Act in full,” Prasad added. “They’re not bound to use the Model Police Act but they’ve taken short-cuts and what they’ve done is actually regressive, they’re moving backwards instead of forward.”

“The legislation is mainly to alleviate the executive’s powers of appointment,” Julio Ribeiro, former commissioner of police in Mumbai, told IndiaSpend. “That’s the main problem. But the government has found many ways to get around this. In fact, politicians have strengthened their influence on the police. What I could do 30 years ago as commissioner, the present commissioner can’t do. I know of officers who left the force because they got sidelined. So, what’s the point?”

The Maharashtra governor approved the Maharashtra Police (Amendment) Bill in July 2014 in a hurried manner, despite significant concerns being expressed by former commissioners such as Julio Ribeiro and Satish Sawhney regarding its violation of the principles of police leadership and discipline. NGOs such as CHRI and Police Reforms Watch had also warned that the bill was undemocratic and had serious shortcomings.

State Security Commissions

About 42 years ago, in 1977, the Janata Party government had set up a Police Commission (NPC) to study the contemporary requirements of the police force. In its report, the NPC had included the setting up of a State Security Commission to ensure that the government in power would not gratuitously interfere in police affairs.

In 2006, the SC ruled that this commission must include the leader of the opposition, independent members selected via an independent panel, a retired judge nominated by the chief justice of the respective high court, and publish an annual report.

However, as of August 2019, not a single state has fully complied with this directive though 27 have partially set up the commission, Prasad said.

For example, in six states--Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Punjab and Tripura--the commission does not include a state opposition leader. In three--Bihar, Karnataka and Punjab--no independent members are allowed. Further, 18 states do not allow for the independent selection of the commission’s independent members, while in 20 states the commission is not mandated to submit an annual report.

“The states implement it whenever it suits them, and wherever it doesn’t suit them, they do not. The crux [of the commission] is to depoliticise the police. But the government continues to exert its influence. The police has become the handmaiden of the party in power,” Ribeiro said.

Minimum two-year tenure for police chiefs

One state, Nagaland, fully complied with the second directive to ensure that the DGP, chosen by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) from a group of three senior offices, remains posted for a minimum tenure of two years. The DGP’s removal must be based on specific grounds, the SC ruling had mandated.

“Fixed tenure is good because it allows officers to develop and implement their vision,” M N Singh, former commissioner of Mumbai Police, told IndiaSpend. “Someone working only for six months is like a person getting on at a train station and getting off at the next. Abrupt transfers, postings and high-handed moves politicise the police and interfere with its functioning.”

But in attempting to implement this reform, several states had failed to follow some of the SC guidelines.

For example, 23 states, as of 2018, had omitted UPSC shortlists for the DGP’s appointment, placing all relevant authority in the state government’s hands, and 16 states had allowed vague grounds such as “in the public interest” or “on other administrative grounds” for the DGP’s removal.

This is liable to serve ulterior political purposes, CHRI observed.

In comparison, more states (six) had fully implemented the third directive mandating a minimum tenure of two years for the post of IGP with provisions for removal only based on specific grounds--Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Nagaland, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha.

Other states had partially sought to implement the reform. Of these, five provide a one-year tenure to officers of this rank. Meanwhile, 16 states had introduced “vague” grounds for the termination of an IGP’s appointment, which CHRI deemed non-compliant, namely Assam, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh.

Five states--Goa, Kerala, Jammu and Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, and West Bengal--and Delhi and the union territories do not mention any basis for removal, placing the matter entirely at the discretion of state governments.

“Minimum tenure is good,” Ribeiro said, “but only if you appoint the correct people. It’s not beneficial if you appoint the wrong people,” he said, highlighting the need to eliminate political influence over appointments.

“The selection of officers by independent committees/commissions where leader of opposition is also a member will ensure postings based on merit rather than the selection of those aligned to the ruling party,” Meeran Borwankar, former director general of the Bureau of Police Research and Development, told IndiaSpend.

Separating law and order from investigations

While 17 states/UTs had made provisions for the separation of units for law and order enforcement and investigation, only Mizoram introduced legislation enabling investigation unit officers to specialise, work with job security, and work elsewhere with the DGP’s explicit permission. These states had special investigation units at police stations for certain offences or geographical areas.

“We should create specialised groups to investigate specialised crime such as trafficking, cyber-crime, etc. which not all police officers are equipped to deal with,” former commissioner Singh said. However, Singh warned against a complete division, saying it is neither feasible nor desirable. “It has been tried in Mumbai, but it hasn’t worked.”

Police Establishment Boards

In this directive, the state is supposed to set up a Police Establishment Board (PEB) comprising the DGP and four other officers, to decide and recommend all promotions, transfers and postings to the state government and to review police functioning. The SC had also envisioned this board to be a forum of appeal for officers above the rank of deputy superintendent of police who may bear grievances with their transfers or postings.

Although all states had followed the fifth directive by setting up PEBs on paper, 27 states remained non-compliant as they did not adhere to all the criteria of the directive. The PEB plays the role of an appeal forum in only 10 states, and reviews the function of the police in only six, the CHRI report said.

Arunachal Pradesh is the only state to have complied on all the criteria of the directive, the report said.

The threat of transfers or suspension was recognised as a primary tool of political interference in a Police Commission report as far back as 1979.

Forty years later, in January 2019, the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Kerala state government allegedly removed the deputy inspector general of police, Chaithra Teresa John, after she raided their office to find people accused of stone-pelting at a local police station, shifting her to the post of superintendent of police (women’s cell).

“This is why fixed tenure is important,” former commissioner Singh said. “It will prevent such removals and transfers.”

Nine in 10 police persons in Uttar Pradesh said they felt stressed due to political interference, a study in 2015 showed, while another study in 2014 found that job insecurity due to the risk of being “suspended at any time” is a major source of stress and results in many police officials seeking other jobs.

“Transfers, postings, training and discipline must be in the hands of the police chiefs, not the government--laws, formulation of the budget, development of infrastructure and so on, can come from the government,” Singh said.

Police complaints cells

So far, only Andhra Pradesh has fully followed the sixth directive, setting up a Police Complaints Authority (PCA) at the state and district levels to address public complaints against police officers.

In 16 states, the independent recommendations of the PCA are subject to the review of the state government despite the SC order demanding otherwise.

Uttar Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Odisha, Himachal Pradesh, and Delhi are yet to set up any PCAs at any level, as per the report.

In July 2018, about 29 per cent of Indians said they placed a lot of trust in a senior police officer, 23 per cent placed this trust in a local police officer, and 16 per cent in traffic police, according to a Common Cause-CSDS survey in 2018. In comparison, 54 per cent Indians have high amounts of trust in the army, followed by the judiciary at 31 per cent.

However, there are significant concerns regarding the implementation of the PCA.

“In Maharashtra, it [Police Complaints Authority] is a disaster. Basically, if you keep appointing people who are going to do your bidding, then you are implementing the reforms only in name, although the truth is you’re doing nothing of the sort,” Ribeiro said.

Reform from within

Singh recommended that the police also be made more accountable to the public, in addition to the legislature and judiciary. “The service provided to complainants would improve significantly if the police and the public directly interact,” he said.

Much can be done from within the police force, aside from the state government, Prasad said, “The police leadership can change things substantially.”

For a direct say in policing matters, Singh suggested that citizen committees be set up in each district to regularly meet with police officers and provide them with feedback. “For example, England already has a ‘neighbourhood watch’ system whereby public stakeholders and police can frequently be in close communication,” he said.

In fact, several reforms can be undertaken at the level of the police leadership, Singh pointed out. He cited the example of retired Indian police officer and civil servant Julio Ribeiro who served as Mumbai Police commissioner from 1982 to 1985. “To alleviate political interference, Ribeiro placed the decision of appointing station officers with the police leadership, guaranteeing the station officers a minimum tenure of two years, completely eliminating any politicians' say--and he instituted this formally into the rules,” Singh said, adding, “Not all need to come from the government."

However, present-day politics may make reforms at the leadership level unfeasible or meaningless, some experts said.

“In my days, such reforms at the leadership level were possible,” Ribeiro said. “Now, I feel sorry for the present incumbents because their hands are tied. Although there are many good officers wanting to better serve the public, politicians still have the last laugh.” Even to remove an officer who had many complaints against him, one of the members in the police leadership had to write to the government seeking permission, he recounted an incident.

Ribeiro said public pressure alone can force the government to ensure police reform. “The people have to pressure the government to ensure that they appoint the correct person who are going to look after their interests. This is what activists should go about doing--whip up public support against wrong appointments, because all political parties only bother when they are threatened with the prospect of losing votes," he said.


(Mehta is an intern with IndiaSpend.

First Published: Fri, August 30 2019. 08:35 IST
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