NEWS A balance needs to be struck between the government’s legitimate role and the police chief’s operational autonomy.
- Recently, Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh was removed from the post by the government.
- This event has put the spotlight once again on long overdue reforms needed in the process of appointing and removing police chiefs.
- There is no independent process to assess the suitability of qualified candidates.
- The government’s exercise control over the State police through their unregulated power to decide who the chief will be. Their assessment remains opaque and is an exercise behind closed doors.
- The principles of democratic accountability necessitate the police chief to remain answerable to the elected government at all times.
- Hence, there is a need to ensure the right balance between the government’s legitimate role in appointing or removing the police chief and the need to safeguard the chief’s operational autonomy.
Two elements are vital to reforms in this area:
- Have an oversight panel
- Need for transparency
- HAVE AN OVERSIGHT PANEL
There is a need to shift the responsibility of appointment and removal from the government alone to a bipartisan, independent oversight body of which the government is one part.
- The National Police Commission (NPC), constituted in 1979, suggested to establish a state-level oversight body with a specified role in the appointment and removal of police chiefs.
- This was later reaffirmed by the Supreme Court of India in its judgment in 2006, in the Prakash Singh case.
- While the top court entrusted the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) with a role in shortlisting candidates from which the State government is to appoint the police chief, the Model Police Bill, 2015 places the responsibility with a multiparty State Police Board, also referred to as the State Security Commission (SSCs).
- The SSC should constitute government officials, the Leader of the Opposition as well as independent members from civil society.
- Thus the bill provided the additional safeguard of civilian oversight over the appointment process.
Gaps in the SSCs-
- Not a single state or UT adheres to the balanced composition suggested by the top court, instead either through new police acts or amendments or through executive orders.
- In essence, the commissions remain dominated by the political executive.
- Also there are concerns over non-functioning SSCs. As per the information secured in 2019, through the Right to Information Act indicates that only four SSCs have held meetings since 2014.
- Hence, there is a need to redesign SSCs strength in order to drive meaningful reforms.
2.NEED FOR TRANSPARENCY
- Much standard-setting work is needed on this as only basic safeguards have been defined in reform measures towards protecting the operational autonomy of the police chief.
- On appointments, the Court and the Model Police Act require the UPSC/SSC to shortlist candidates on the basis of length of service, service record, and range of experience and a performance appraisal of the candidates over the past 10 years.
- However, no further guidance has been developed on explaining these terms to guide the appointments.
- Questions such as- What qualifies as a “good” range of experience? How is the integrity of a candidate measured during appraisals? What is the process required to be followed by the SSC in reviewing the suitability of candidates? Should not interviews with the candidates be considered as a requirement, for instance?; remains unclear.
- Similarly, no scrutiny process has been prescribed to justify removals from tenure posts.
- The NPC had required State governments to seek the approval of the State Security Commission before removing the police chief before the end of term.
- But this important check was diluted under the Prakash Singh judgment that only requires governments to consult the SSC.
Supreme Court on such removal:
- On the contrary, the Supreme Court in T.P. Senkumar vs Union of India, 2017 case, has rightly emphasised that “prima facie satisfaction of the government” alone is not a sufficient ground to justify removal from a tenure post in government, such as that of the police chief.
- The rule of law requires such decisions be for compelling reasons and based on verifiable material that can be objectively tested.
EXAMPLE FROM UNITED KINGDOM
- In improving transparency of the review process, the UK provides a useful example.
- The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act, 2011, introduced public confirmation hearings as an additional layer of check for the appointment of the heads of their police forces known as Chief Constables (outside of London city).
Clear and specific benchmarks are required to be integrated into decision-making processes, both on appointments and removals, to prevent politically motivated adverse actions. Any further delay in implementing reforms in this area will continue to demoralise the police and cripple the rule of law.