A Temporary Commissioner of Police?

Editorial

Section 71 of our Constitution states as follows:
‘Commissioner of Police

(1) There shall be a Commissioner of Police whose office shall be a public office.

(2) The Police Force shall be under the command of the Commissioner of Police.

(3) The Prime Minister, or such other Minister as may be authorised in that behalf by the Prime Minister, may give to the Commissioner of Police such general directions of policy with respect to the maintenance of public safety and public order as he may consider necessary and the Commissioner shall comply with such directions or cause them to be complied with.

(4) Nothing in this section shall be construed as precluding the assignment to a Minister of responsibility under section 62 for the organisation, maintenance and administration of the Police Force, but the Commissioner of Police shall be responsible for determining the use and controlling the operations of the force and, except as provided in subsection (3), the Commissioner shall not, in the exercise of his responsibilities and powers with respect to the use and operational control of the force, be subject to the direction or control of any person or authority.’

Constitutional posts – and for that matter any institutional post with an equivalent level of responsibility – are fundamentally about the dignity of office. More than the powers that such posts carry, their dignity flows from that that of the incumbent. Since our legislators frequently make reference to determinations of the Supreme Court in India or the opinions of Indian legal luminaries, it is perhaps appropriate to quote this extract from a Times of India article in May 2013, when the issue of 2G scams was taken to the Supreme Court of India – ‘People who hold these posts or man the institutions are to a large extent responsible for creating public perception about the post or institution. Their vision, conduct, character, charisma, honesty and integrity define to a considerable extent the height to which the posts or institutions will be lifted or the depths to which they will plunge. The people at the helm of affairs define the parameters of trust and faith associated with these posts and institutions.’
In what may be a historic first in our country, a Commissioner of Police has allegedly been appointed on a temporary basis. What could have impelled the nominee to accept to occupy such a key post on a temporary basis is best left to the person himself. What is of national interest however is how such a nomination affects the functioning of the office, and its potential impact on the country, especially in view of the context in which the alleged temporary appointment has been made — a context marred by widespread interrogations about the real leeway and operational independence enjoyed by the Commissioner of Police following the Judicial Inquiry into the murder of political activist Soopramanien Kistnen, earlier deemed by the CID as a suicide, and all the revelations brought to light by the Inquiry, and which led to the perception that the latter department was operating like a state within a state.

It goes without saying that by definition the holder of a temporary post can only be there as long as s/he is felt to be ‘desirable’, in other words pliant to the orders or instructions coming from above, because failure to do so will result in immediate termination or reluctance to appoint the officer in a substantive capacity. Whether or not any incumbent weighs this before accepting to assume those high responsibilities is not known, but this possibility must surely hang as a sword of Damocles on the person’s head. The temporary nomination therefore weakens both the person and the post.

Can one imagine, in our model of democracy, the appointment of say a judge or a President on a temporary basis? What signal would that send to the population, to the outside world, with its consequent impact on our global reputation?

These are genuine queries that deserve the highest consideration, and it seems that in the appointment of a temporary CP we have fallen short of doing so. The sooner this unhealthy, unstable and untenable situation is resolved with a view to not tarnish the dignity of the office and to give due respect to the operational autonomy that it confers, the better it will be for the country.


* Published in print edition on 10 August 2021

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