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Above: Former Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal’s interference with police administration contributed to the Akalis’ defeat in the state polls/Photo: UNI

The apex court’s order to states to send a list of senior police officers to the UPSC a few months before the incumbent’s retirement may be resisted, as law and order is a state subject 

By Vipin Pubby in Chandigarh

The Supreme Court’s decision on petitions filed by two states, seeking modification of an earlier order on the appointment of director generals of police (DGPs), will be watched keenly, not only by the petitioner states, but other states as well.

Appointment to the post of the head of police in states, and consequently, to other key posts such as senior superintendents of police (SSPs) and down to station house officers (SHOs), has become highly politicised. The police force, which is a state subject, is the key to power and administration in states. Naturally, no state is willing to give way.

In some states, the power was grossly misused to openly align the police force with the political dispensation of the day. For instance, the previous Parkash Singh Badal government in Punjab had crossed all limits to realign the jurisdictions of police stations and police districts with those of the assembly constituencies. This was ostensibly done for the purpose of better administration.

However, the intention behind such a move was revealed soon after, when the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal appointed “halqa in-charges” in various constituencies. These appointments were totally political, and even included defeated party candidates. The idea, obviously, was that police stations in these constituencies will work as per the diktat of the “halqa in-charges”.

Before the realignment of police districts, there were several assembly constituencies which came under the jurisdiction of more than one police set-up. The political appointees interfered so much with the police administration that FIRs were registered only with their concurrence. This led to huge resentment as these appointees evidently helped only their supporters. It’s believed that one of the reasons for the big defeat of the Akalis was the resentment caused by the interference of political leaders with the police administration.

Similarly, it was not uncommon for state governments to supersede seniormost police officers by appointing their favourites as DGPs. This was a regular practice in most states. In Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, for example, religious and communal overtones also influenced decisions regarding the appointment of police chiefs. Not just that. Some chief ministers were appointing and removing DGPs at regular intervals, or whenever they thought the incumbent was not listening to their orders, including those relating to postings and transfers of SSPs and SHOs.

State governments would not only pick up officers of their choice for the top police post, but there were several instances of chief ministers appointing DGPs from other cadres of the Indian Police Service. Two prominent instances were the appointment of KPS Gill as the DGP of Punjab, and later, SS Virk to the same position. Gill belonged to the Assam cadre, while Virk was from the Maharashtra cadre. Both had worked in Punjab during the days of militancy as part of other paramilitary forces, and were picked up for their acumen rather than merely for being political fav­ourites. No doubt, their appointments were resented by police officers of the cadres concerned.

While there were exceptions like Gill and Virk, a major issue of resentment and concern was the appointment of weak police officers to the top job after superseding several deserving officers. This led to a PIL in the Supreme Court back in 2006. While deciding the PIL filed by two former DGPs Prakash Singh and NK Singh, the SC issued several directions, including setting up of a State Security Commission, to ensure that the government did not exercise unwarranted influence on the police. This historic verdict led to the implementation of several police reforms.

The apex court had said the appointment of DGPs and police officers should be merit-based and transparent, and officers like DGPs and SSPs should have a minimum fixed tenure of two years. Some states, however, found a way to circumvent the orders. They began appointing acting DGPs and making them permanent just before the date of their superannuation (at the age of 60), to enable them to get the benefit of a further two-year tenure till the age of 62.

After a clutch of petitions raised these inconsistencies, and some states filed pleas seeking modification of the order, the Supreme Court, on July 3 this year, passed a slew of directions on police reforms and chronicled the steps for appointment of regular DGPs.

The Court directed that states will have to send a list of senior police officers to the Union Public Service Commission at least three months prior to the retirement of the incumbent. The Commission will then prepare a panel of eligible candidates and intimate the states, who will immediately appoint one person from that panel.

This was challenged by, among others, the governments of Punjab and Bihar, who pleaded that the earlier order needed to be modified as they had already passed laws to deal with the issue of appointment of DGPs.

A bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice SK Kaul has now agreed to hear the pleas seeking modification of the earlier order. The Bihar government said it has already framed a comprehensive law dealing with various aspects, including the procedure for appointment of DGPs in pursuance of the 2006 apex court verdict. Former minister and senior lawyer P Chidambaram appeared for the Punjab government and took a similar stand. The West Bengal government also filed a similar plea. While keeping in abeyance any rule or legislation framed by any of the states or the centre in conflict with its earlier directions, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the pleas.

The state governments are likely to take a strong stand on retaining powers over the appointment of key police posts, citing that law and order is a state subject, and they must have the power to appoint and remove top cops based on their performance.

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