The Congress-NCP’s Democratic Front state government is in for a testing time before the upcoming Lok Sabha general elections and later the state assembly elections. The dilemma lies in the powers currently enjoyed by politicians to effect transfers and posting of police officers.
The state is in the midst of a full-blown controversy less known to the general public. It has now to follow a Supreme Court directive on transfers within the police force. It is expected to enact a legislation to deal with establishment-related police matters.
The state cabinet witnessed an intense debate last week that went on for over one-and-a-half hours. Cabinet members were unhappy as the powers, currently with the home minister and chief minister, will go to the police establishment boards — one to be headed by the additional chief secretary (home) and another by the state director general of police.
Recommendations on transfers and postings of policemen will normally be accepted by the government, says the SC directive. The prospect that the home minister and CM will not have much of a say in transfers and postings has cast a pall of gloom, since all these years, politicians irrespective of their position could use their clout with the home minister or CM to get transfers and postings of their favoured cops.
Even after a prolonged debate, the state cabinet meeting could not resolve the issue and decided to refer it to a group of ministers. The decision that the government is expected to take involves major changes in the Maharashtra Act for Transfers of Government Officers, 2005. To adhere to the SC direction given in the case Prakash Singh & Others Vs Government of India & Others, the state has already issued a GR (government resolution) to effect changes in the current system of transfers and postings.
In fact, the GR contradicts existing provisions from the state act that define how transfers and postings of all the state government employees including the police should be made. It also regulates transfers of IPS cadre officers. Regardless, the state home department issued the GR as it was expected to submit a reply on July 31, date of the next hearing before the SC.
Now, to give a legal status to the SC direction, the state will need to go before the state legislature for an amendment bill to exclude police force from the state transfers act, and later for another one to amend the Maharashtra Police Act or enact a special one. Here, the biggest ever confrontation between judiciary and the legislature is expected. If the state legislature refuses to toe the SC line, the government will be in a quandary because it has already issued the orders to set up police establishment boards.
Why are politicians scared? The answer lies in the present state of affairs. Every politician, a big wheel or small fry, wants police offices of his choice in his area to further his political interests. It’s because police enjoy tremendous powers and influence people and their daily life.
So recommendations on postings and transfers made to home minister or chief minister assume significance. And police officers too prefer to maintain cordial relations with the political class. The SC direction is clearly aimed at separating police work from political bossing in the backdrop of the deepest ever politicisation of the forces and the effects od this nexus on the society at large.
The political class fears that if police establishment board starts working, their recommendations would mostly be thrown into dustbins, affecting local politics. In other words, police will be free from political clutches and will discharge duties as expected with the words used by the SC: ‘Police is accountable essentially and preliminarily to the law of the land and people.
The boards will also work as an appealing authority where officers will be able to seek redressal to their complaints over postings, promotions, disciplinary actions any service related matter’. Moreover, a fixed tenure of two years to be given to each police officer is going to aggravate the confrontation between netas and judiciary. With a fixed tenure, officers may realise there is no need or motivation to conform to the word of the politician. Nor can he be pressurised with their threats about postings in remote areas such as Gadchiroli or Gondia in the Naxal-ravaged western parts of the state.
Fearing a backlash from the Supreme Court, the Congress-NCP government was so anxious that it did not go ahead with the periodic transfers that happen normally in the month of May every year. This year, no orders were issued despite the fact that a sizeable group in the IPS cadre is expecting promotions to DIG, additional DG and DG ranks.
To defend its authority, the state is expected to evoke the constitutional provision that entrust the subject of law and order, along with that of the police establishment, to the state governments. So prepare for a big conflict on supremacy within the establishment in the near future.
— The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY