From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Not much
Mains level : Paper 2- Protecting the police from political interference
The article suggests the need for reforms in the process of appointment to the police chief to ensure the political neutrality of the police.
Process of appointing and removing police chief
- A crucial way in which governments exercise control over the State police is through their unregulated power to decide who the chief will be.
- There is no independent vetting process to assess the suitability of qualified candidates, and the government’s assessment, if it is done at all, remains opaque and is an exercise behind closed doors.
- The moot reform issue is in ensuring the right balance between the government’s legitimate role in appointing or removing the police chief with the need to safeguard the chief’s operational autonomy.
Need for reforms
Two elements are vital to reforms in this area.
1) Shift the responsibility to independent oversight body of which government is one part
- The National Police Commission (NPC) (1979), and the Supreme Court in its judgment in 2006, in the Prakash Singh case suggested establishing a state-level oversight body with a specified role in the appointment and removal of police chiefs.
- While the Supreme 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.
- However, the Model Police Bill, 2015 places the responsibility with a multiparty State Police Board, also referred to as the State Security Commission (SSCs) instead.
No compliance with SC directive in the formation of SSC
- While 26 States and the Union Territories have established SSCs, not a single one adheres to the balanced composition suggested by the top court.
- Some do not include the Leader of the Opposition; others neither include independent members nor follow an independent selection process of the members.
- In essence, the commissions remain dominated by the political executive.
- Moreover, in as many as 23 States, governments retain the sole discretion of appointing the police chief. Assam, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Meghalaya and Mizoram are the only States where, on paper, the SSC is given the responsibility of shortlisting candidates.
2) Need for transparency
- The second element critical to police reforms is instituting an independent and transparent selection and decision-making process around appointment and removal, against objective criteria.
- 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 or specifying their elements.
- Similarly, no scrutiny process has been prescribed to justify removals from tenure posts.
- The National Police Commission had required State governments to seek the approval of the State Security Commission before removing the police chief before the end of term.
- This important check was diluted under the Prakash Singh judgment that only requires governments to consult the SSC.
- Most States omit even this cursory step.
- The Supreme Court 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 (T.P. Senkumar vs Union of India, 2017).
- The rule of law requires such decisions be for compelling reasons and based on verifiable material that can be objectively tested.
- Clear and specific benchmarks need to be integrated into decision-making processes, both on appointments and removals, to prevent politically motivated adverse actions.
- In improving transparency the United Kingdom provides a useful example by introducing public confirmation hearings as an additional layer of check for the appointment of the heads of their police forces.
Consider the question “Examine the status of compliance of the states to the directives of the Supreme Court with respect to the constitution of State Security Commission in the Prakash Singh case.”
Reforms are needed on urgent to ensure fairness in administrative decisions and to protect the political neutrality of the police. Any further delay in implementing reforms in this area will continue to demoralise the police and cripple the rule of law.