Ills of political appointments : The Tribune India | #socialmedia

Julio Ribeiro

The newly-appointed Commissioner of Mumbai Police, Sanjay Pandey, is making waves with his aggressive, pro-people policing. Every day, newspapers carry stories of his interaction with the public on social media and the follow-up of his promises.

When elected representatives choose a police commissioner whose integrity they know to be suspect, they are doing a great disservice to their mandate.

Twenty-five years ago, when I returned home from Romania, Pandey as a DCP was in charge of a zone which included Dharavi, the city’s biggest slum. His impartiality resulted in communal peace in a volatile area.

Mumbai’s police commissioner is one of two government officials who matter the most in this metropolis. In the early colonial days, the police chief doubled up as the municipal chief. It was only when the burden became too big that the two jobs were bifurcated and assigned separate heads.

Stephen Meredyth Edwardes of the Civil Services, a very successful municipal commissioner of Mumbai in colonial times, was appointed the police commissioner on completing his term in the civic body. He is credited with ending the chronic violence that accompanied the yearly Muharram procession. In his memoirs, he wrote that the police chief’s job was the most taxing one he ever handled.

The commissioners who headed Bombay police after Independence were men of character, and the political leaders in Bombay’s provincial government respected them. Morarji Desai, Yashwantrao Chavan, Dr BG Kher and their ilk did not interfere in the operational independence of the police. The IGP’s recommendations on postings and transfers of IPS officers were invariably respected. The postings of subordinate ranks were left to departmental heads.

As commissioner of police from February 1982 to May 1985, I ensured that no subordinate official approached politicians for transfers. The one and only time pressure was applied on me, I volunteered to step down. It was important to send the message to the rank and file that I was their leader and they had to follow my orders.

Since the political leaders of today have concluded that they have the right to transfer and appoint officials according to their personal or party interests, ignoring the advice of departmental heads, we had the traumatic reality of a commissioner suspended from service and accused of extortion, and worse!

When elected representatives of the people choose a police commissioner whose integrity they know to be suspect because he is willing to oblige them, they are doing a great disservice to their mandate. I never expected a seasoned politician like Sharad Pawar to let Param Bir Singh get the better of him. The trauma that Mumbai Police are enduring at present flows from that one faulty appointment.

Two or three years ago, an IPS officer with the credentials and seniority that should have propelled him to the top job learnt that Param Bir was trying to outfox him by lobbying with BJP’s intermediaries. One such intermediary was to arrive at a suburban hotel at a specified time and the officer learnt that Param Bir was scheduled to meet him. A trap was laid but instead of Param Bir, a DSP arrived to meet this intermediary for his own transfer! The news made headlines and I wrote an article deprecating the lobbying that was going on. I did not mention names but Param Bir served a legal notice on me in which he admitted it was he who was the officer involved! I replied that I stood by all that I had written. I heard nothing from him after that.

The state government appointed such a man to the top job. The government compounded its error by changing horses midstream. Hemant Nagrale was suddenly replaced as commissioner of police by Sanjay Pandey, who had been the ‘acting’ DGP of the state. Pandey had not been empanelled for the post of DGP by the UPSC. He had butted the heads of some seniors and resigned from service and joined a private company, TCS. There, too, he had problems with colleagues and they soon parted ways. He was reinstated into the IPS because the government had not accepted his resignation!

Three officials were empanelled for the post of the state DGP and Rajneesh Seth, the junior-most among them, got the job as he had a sufficiently long period – two years – left before retirement. But Pandey is two years senior to Seth! It is true that the Mumbai commissioner does not report to the DGP for operational matters, but inter-unit transfers and purchases are handled by the DGP, who is always senior. The government’s decision, thus, can affect governance.

Pandey and Seth are men of unquestioned integrity. Besides, Seth has no chip on his shoulder and can be entrusted with navigating ego problems skilfully. But is that the government’s thought behind such unusual manoeuvres? I doubt it. My view is that this coalition government has yet to attain a degree of maturity. Pawar could have provided advice, but I fear he has lost his touch.

The government needs to restore to the city police its élan and pride. The morale of the rank and file is badly affected. Since the citizen’s security depends heavily on the performance of police, the political leadership should cease to treat the choice of police leaders in a cavalier manner.

Pandey has just four months to go before retirement, not enough time to leave a mark. The grapevine has it that he has been inducted to fix Param Bir. If that is true, I would advise him to be cautious. His job is not to undo the government’s follies, it is to galvanise the rank and file. Pandey has the capacity to deliver on that. The two NGOs I work with — which fight communalism and corruption — have good vibes about him as an officer who opposes communalism and corruption, the two big evils that keep our country from progressing.

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