State police complaint body accused of harassment, judicial overreach

May 17, 2018, 07:36 IST | Dharmendra Jore

IPS top brass, officers from other departments and laymen petition CM, allege harassment and judicial overreach by MSPCA

Pic for representation
Pic for representation

The Maharashtra State Police Complaints Authority (MSPCA), a forum that assists people in getting grievances against the police resolved, has found itself in a tight spot, after senior cops and government officials have accused it of judicial overreach and high-handedness.

The matter has reached Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who is now mulling ways to correct MSPCA's mechanism, which is also accused of threatening officers with suspension even though such legal powers are not vested with it. Sources said the CM could replace officials working with MSPCA if they don't mend their ways. Sources said some private individuals, including a non-resident Indian, and officers from the police and other departments, met Fadnavis recently to apprise him of their grievances. Set up last January, MSPCA is vested with powers of a civil court.

Fadnavis has been told that while SPCA's jurisdiction is restricted only to taking up complaints against police officers in cases of torture, harassment or negligence in duty, the authority goes way beyond its mandate and summons senior officials from other government and civic departments like MHADA, the land records department and the Collectorate. It has been brought to the CM's notice that matters that were being heard by other statutory bodies and courts, too, were being taken up for hearing at MSPCA.

Fadnavis told mid-day that he was aware of the grievances, but did not share details. Officers close to him said he was upset by the way MSPCA was functioning and wanted to make it a free and fair forum for all stakeholders. A senior official in Mantralaya narrated some stunners from MSPCA. "Some days ago, MHADA officials were asked to get 70,000 photocopies of documents. They were told to use a truck, if need be, to carry the documents to the MSPCA office at Nariman Point," he said, adding that there were even more serious complaints against a junior MSPCA official (a retired ACP).

Sources further said that in one of the incidents earlier this month, as many as eight senior MHADA officials were sitting in court for an entire day awaiting their hearing. The officers were summoned in a case that had been closed by the police. When the government officials pleaded with the court that they were being unnecessarily dragged into the proceedings, the authority threatened to get them suspended even if it had no power to do so, said a senior official privy to the complaint made to the CM. A mid-level IPS officer from Mumbai was humiliated when he was made to sit for hours outside the MSPCA office without any reason.

He is reported to have told his seniors that not just him, but his juniors from the western suburbs, too, were harassed and insulted regularly at the authority office. "Acting beyond its scope, the authority is harassing senior government officers by launching long-winded investigations into civil issues," said another senior official, adding that the authority has become the latest forum for self-proclaimed activists to drag officials into legal proceedings and harass them for ulterior motives. However, one of the MSPCA members and a former IPS officer, PK Jain, told mid-day that no threats of suspension were issued by the authority. "Whoever has told the chief minister this is lying," he said.

Also Read: Police complaint authority formation in Maharashtra delayed: RTI reply

How MSPCA functions
The authority is headed by retired Bombay High Court Justice A V Potdar, with former additional DGP PK Jain and a representative of civil society, Umakant Mitkar, being its other members. A serving Additional DGP Pradnya Sarvade is a member secretary. The authority has been given the status of a civil court as per the guidelines of the Supreme Court. Constituted in January last year, it has till date received more than 750 complaints against the police department. The state authority hears the cases against officers of assistant commissioner and above.

A similar mechanism is being put in place at divisional and district levels for lower rank officers. But, if lower set-ups are unavailable, the state authority hears complaints against the junior officers as well. The SPCA can summon witnesses, examine them on oath and receive evidence on affidavit. If it finds merit in the complaint, it will then send a report to the superiors of the personnel named in the complaint, or to the state in the case of senior officers. This could, among other things, lead to an FIR being registered against the guilty party.

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