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Above: Capt Amarinder Singh and Harpreet Singh Sidhu whom he had handpicked to head the STF

For a border state that has been in the crosshairs of Pakistan’s politicians and terrorists alike, an undisciplined police force is the last thing the state can afford

By Vipin Pubby in Chandigarh

Infighting among the top brass of Punjab Police is one of the worst kept secrets in the state. Top police officers accusing each other of corruption, protecting drug mafia and worse is common. There have also been instances of cases being instituted or investigations launched against one another.

Ironically, almost all those involved in such bickering were in the forefront of tackling militancy in the 1980s and 1990s as young officers. They were foot soldiers of the then Director General of Police, KPS Gill, and bore the brunt of the struggle against the militants. Gill had given them extraordinary powers and they took full advantage of them. Some see a link to the continued bickering with professional rivalries harking back to that era.

But the culture of indiscipline in the police force percolated to even lower levels. So much so, that an inspector-level station house officer (SHO), Parminder Singh Bajwa, addressed a press conference and made snide remarks about the chief minister’s personal life. He was, of course, suspended and then dismissed from service but the rot appears to have set in.

Perturbed over the washing of dirty linen in public, Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh recently called a meeting of the top brass and warned of severe action against those indulging in indiscipline. As part of his intervention he even changed the head of the Special Task Force (STF) entrusted with the job of checking drug trafficking. He had himself requested the Centre to prematurely release a 1992-batch, Punjab-cadre, IPS officer Harpreet Singh Sidhu, who was heading CRPF’s anti-Naxal Operations in Chhattisgarh, to head the newly-created STF.

This had caused some resentment in the state as many senior officers were available to head the Task Force. Capt Amarinder even went further and asked him to report directly to him instead of the DGP Suresh Arora. This led to dual power centres. The chief minister had then given the explanation that since Sidhu was recalled prematurely from central deputation, he had to directly report to the CMO.

But in a surprise move earlier this month, in an evident attempt to tackle infighting among the top police officers in the state, the chief minister removed Sidhu as STF head and appointed him special principal secretary to the chief minister. In his place he appointed another senior officer, Mohammad Mustafa, as STF chief. Unlike Sidhu, he is supposed to report to the DGP. Simultaneously, he also obtained an extension for DGP Arora who was to retire month-end.

It was well-known that Sidhu was resisting reporting to the DGP while the top police officer of the state had taken the stand that two power centres were causing friction in the police force. Thus he has tried to mollify both Arora and Sidhu by giving Arora full control and authority while moving Sidhu to the privileged Chief Minister’s Office.

The trigger for the latest turmoil was the statement given by another senior officer, DGP (HRD) Sidharth Chattopadhyay in the Punjab and Haryana High Court. He had approached the court alleging that he was being targeted by some senior officers “whose role was under investigation for being closely associated with SSP Raj Jit Singh”. He was obviously referring to DGP Arora and DGP (Intelligence) Dinkar Gupta.

He had approached the High Court to claim that he was being implicated in a case of abetment of suicide due to internal politics of the state police. He had refused to withdraw his allegations despite being asked by the government to do so. The name of the SSP had, in turn, come up during the interrogation of Inspector Inderjit Singh, who has since been dismissed. The inspector was arrested by the STF led by Sidhu with four kilograms of heroin. It was considered the biggest achievement of the STF. SSP Raj Jit, too, had approached the High Court alleging he was being harassed by certain police officers as part of departmental politics.

In yet another related case, the court had stayed a probe against Chattopadhyay in a case connected with the suicide of a businessman, Inderpreet Chadha, in January. Chattopadhyay submitted that his name was unnecessarily being dragged into the case and had sought a CBI probe into the death.

The High Court has thus become a battleground for the infighting among a section of senior police officers. It is hearing multiple complaints of harassment by senior officers against each other. It remains to be seen if the latest reshuffle improves discipline and relationships within the police force. For a border state that has been on the Pakistani radar, an undisciplined police force can just be the best thing to happen for the enemy who might seize this chance to create trouble in the state.

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