The Karnataka high court recently directed the Police Establishment Board to clarify if the transfers and retention of police officers were made on the recommendation letters given by 21 MLAs, for posting police officers of their choice in their respective assembly constituencies.
The Court observed that “both the state government and the Police Establishment Board cannot be influenced by such recommendations by the elected representatives”, which goes against Section 20B of the Karnataka Police Act, 2012.
What the law says
The Act clearly states that only the Police Establishment Board which constitutes the Director General of Police and Inspector General of Police Karnataka, along with four senior Indian Police Service (IPS) officers has to decide on transfers, postings, promotions and service-related matters of all officers of and below the rank of a Deputy Superintendent of Police. The Board was aimed to break the politician-policeman nexus but the reality is that political interference has made it virtually defunct in Karnataka.
The Police Establishment Board was established in accordance with Section 20B of the Karnataka Police Act, 2012 following the 2006 Supreme Court directive on police reforms across the country.
Netas call the shots
However, the chief minister and home minister along with other colleagues and elected representatives call the shots on police transfers and not the legally constituted Board established for the purpose. These recommendation letters from elected representatives are routed through the chief minister’s office and addressed to the home secretary or the Director General of Police and Inspector General of Police.
The apex court appointed the Thomas Committee to monitor the implementation of its directions on police reforms across various state governments. Its report submitted in August, 2010 expressed “dismay over the total indifference to the issue of reforms in the functioning of the police being exhibited by the states.”
Some states have resorted to executive orders while others have made amendments to their respective Police Acts. So much so all these responses to the implementation of the Supreme Court-directed police reforms remain only on paper. This despite the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) manifesto, which promises reforms in civil, judiciary and police services in its ‘sankalp patra’ to deliver better public services.
Threat to democracy
The politicisation of the police force threatens democracy because it cannot uphold the rule of law due to political interference. It hampers police officials in the discharge of their duties because political affiliations also influence departmental inquiries and punishment proceedings of police officers. Whenever an MLA or minister feels uncomfortable with a police officer, then the one-year minimum tenure rule is subverted with an executive order known as “officer sent on other official duties.”
Sometimes police officers are compelled to write a letter or willingness to opt for transfer citing personal grounds. Also allegations of serious misconduct are engineered to initiate a departmental inquiry to facilitate that the charges are adequate to merit a premature transfer. Politicians are even known to influence the manner in which performance appraisals and awards are given to police officers. As a result, sometimes when politician’s oral instructions contradict a senior police officer’s orders a police officer is vulnerable to disciplinary action.
BJP, Congress both guilty
Since 2010, there are over 100 such cases of political interference in police transfers and both the Indian National Congress Party and the BJP are equally guilty of ‘favoured’ policemen. Some RTI documents filed earlier as part of a writ petition in the Supreme Court, reveal a spate of police transfers that seemingly have less to do with any police officer’s crime-cracking capabilities and more to do with their loyalty towards a local MLA.
In March 2013, T Suneel Kumar, IPS stated in a petition to the Karnataka high court, that the politicisation of the police due to the lack of a proper tenure policy for posting of officers at different levels and the arbitrary transfers and postings which have been used for political interest. Transfers are made for whimsical reasons which has not only demoralising effect on the police force but is also alien to the system of rule of law as envisaged under the Constitution.
In January 2016, Anupama Shenoy, Deputy Superintendent of Police was transferred allegedly at the behest of a minister for putting his telephone call on hold, which triggered a political storm during Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s Congress government. Few months later she resigned from police service.
In October 2017, then Karnataka home minister Ramalinga Reddy proclaimed that the state government plans to increase the minimum tenure of police officers to two years from one year at one place of posting, in accordance with the Supreme Court judgment in Prakash Singh Vs Union of India 2006 case, while speaking at Belagavi. He also specifically referred to the autonomy of the Police Establishment Board. The fact that the then home minister’s words proved hollow is evident from the scathing comments of the IPS Association president, Karnataka, Rajvir Sharma in March 2018 over political interference in police work and the frequent transfer of police officers.
For the common citizen the police as an instrument of good governance remains a mirage as long as the police-politician nexus remains entrenched and society is unable to break this unholy bond. The police provide the foundation for the criminal justice system and therefore, needs to evolve into an impartial institution of governance and deserves constitutional protection in national interest.
(The writer is a Professor of International Relations and Strategic Studies at Christ Deemed to be University, Bengaluru)
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