After much dilly-dallying, the state has finally approved police reforms as per Supreme Court’s directives in the “Prakash Singh & others versus Union of India” case. In 2006, the SC had directed state governments to initiate police reforms. Maharashtra delayed compliance to the order, even as other states accepted it much earlier.

The state cabinet, in a meeting on January 15, was, in fact, reluctant to approve the reforms. Ministers expressed strong reservations, as the reforms mean shifting of powers from Mantralaya to the state police headquarters. For the political class it was difficult to digest, since the police obeyed their orders in lieu of good postings, transfers and promotions. In return, politicians used the police force to further their own political interests.

Police reforms follow the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, and necessitate certain changes in the present setup of a Lokayukta in the state. The Congress party has asked its CMs to go for the new setup by the end of February. The institution of Lokpal and Lokayukta, and police reforms, together will change the face of politics that has made politicians the most powerful class of the society.

The reforms say that the state’s director general of police (DGP) will exercise his powers to transfer police officers of the rank of police inspectors and below. Effectively, in a state like ours, the DGP is going to be the real boss of a strong contingent of 2.06 lakh officials of the state police force. The CM will enjoy powers to transfer IPS officers, and the home minister will use it for transferring the additional superintendent of police and deputy superintendent of police.

Police officers will no longer have a reason to worry about threats of immediate transfer or punishment transfer for offending the political class, as their tenure is fixed for two years and the process of transfers is not going to be based on the whims and wishes of politicians.

In such a scenario, the reforms were essentially not easily acceptable for the Democratic Front government. It was said that a number of ministers argued against it during the cabinet meeting. According to them, even today many police officers do not pay heed to them and the reforms will create further havoc. But, home minister RR Patil was firm, saying any delay would invite contempt of the SC, as the process had already been delayed for more than six years.

In July last year, the cabinet decided to appoint a sub-committee under Patil to study the issue, with the SC directives difficult to ignore. The state cabinet did not take up any discussion on the sub-committee report for four months, when it was submitted in September last year.

The entire process took a serious toll on promotions and postings of senior police officers, including the city police chief. The internal politics between Congress and NCP was so deep that Patil refused to forward any proposal for the CM’s approval. The Congress and the NCP maintain serious differences on the issue of postings and promotions. The home minister was fuming over the CM’s reluctance to take up the sub-committee report for cabinet discussion, even though it was awaiting his nod for the last four months.

Despite such issues, the powers to transfer police officers now stand decentralised. The days of the police devoting time in seeking political patronage, instead of discharging their lawful duties, will no longer be seen. Even a DGP, who has some vision for the state and zeal to serve society at large, can improve the image of the force. But, such freedom should come with a sense of responsibility, and the police force should take it seriously to serve society in the fairest manner possible — their image has already taken a beating.

For the political class, it could not have come at a worse time, in the year of general elections. It’s no longer a secret that police help is crucial during polls.

The second most crucial change will happen with the state’s decision on the Lokayukta. The bureaucracy that used to enjoy political cover to avoid disciplinary actions and inquiry for corruption charges will have to be very careful in future. The Lokayukta is set to enjoy sweeping powers to order and monitor probe against erring officials and awarding punishments. It simply means babus cannot pamper political bosses the way they used to. This also comes as major setback for the political class that furthered its interests with the help of sarkari babus.

— The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY