Ordinance dupes people on reality of police reforms

India on 14 February 2014
Location : Maharashtra | Source : Asian Age

This week, the government promulgated the Maharashtra Police (Amendment) Ordinance, 2014. It was done to show the Supreme Court that it is complying with its seven directives. The Court’s orders aimed at improving policing by freeing it from political interference, giving management back into police hands and making the force more accountable. Pretending to comply with the Court’s clear orders, the state leadership chose to bring in long lasting changes in this hugely important area via the Ordinance route — so circumventing the Legislature and preventing any kind of debate.

And well might they have chosen the stealth route. Even a cursory look at the Ordinance shows it to be a poisoned chalice.

To insulate the police from unnecessary interference, the Supreme Court had ordered each state to create a multi-member State Security Commission. The Commission’s recommendations had to be binding. That way, once it had laid down policy, standards would be known, performance would be benchmarked and there would be little room for sudden firmans coming from on high. Just to be sure that things remain exactly where they are even if they look different, the Ordinance makes the Commission’s recommendations only “advisory in nature”. The judge who was to be on the Commission has been done away with. Just in case the five “non-official” members who were to be chosen by an outside panel turned out to be too independent-minded, the government has done away with the selection panel, but will now choose “non-official” members itself. So much for independence.

The head of an organisation must merit respect, be entirely responsible for its performance, and be free of outside pressure. To ensure all this, the Supreme Court directed that the chief minister must no longer name the police chief out of his durbar of favourites, but pick one out of a shortlist made up by an independent panel of meritorious officers. Giving this check and balance the go by, the Ordinance once again makes sure the choice of top cop is left to the chief minister’s discretion.

In order to return management back into the hands of the police leadership, the Supreme Court required that depending on rank, decisions on promotions, transfers and postings must be brought back to the police leadership. The Police Establishment Board was to be made up of police officers alone. The Ordinance has now smuggled in bureaucrats. It was only last year that the DGP had threatened to quit after the home minister had taken away all his powers to decide on postings, appointments and transfers of even police inspectors. Any hope of security of tenure for senior ranks is also thrown to the winds by making sure mid-term transfers can be ordered on the undefined ground of “administrative exigency”.
Perhaps the deepest deception on the public is the show of making the police more accountable. The Supreme Court required the government to set up independent specialist police complaints bodies at state and district level. The police has strongly resisted this in many states. In the pull and push between the powerful, to meet the need to obey the Court and make a popular move against the increasing bad behaviour by police, the Ordinance creates a weak body.

Making no pretense at impartiality, it then packs it with retired government officials and worse still, with a serving police officer who will judge the guilt or innocence of a brother under suspicion. The hapless complainant can go to jail for two years or more for any false or frivolous complaint. Finally, to add salt to the wounds of anyone who has the temerity to come before this body and the inquiry proceeds, the government has given itself the option to reject the Authority’s findings. The Court of course had said PCA conclusions must be binding.
Taken together, it would be fair to say that the Maharashtra Police (Amendment) Ordinance is an insult to the intelligence of the public.
Ms Maja Daruwala is the director of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative

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