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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 14, March 29, 2014

Chhattisgarh Incident Exposes Activists on Police Reforms Front

Wednesday 2 April 2014

by B.K. Manish

The recent ambush attack in which 16 CRPF jawans lost their lives in the Tongpal area of Chhattishgarh has generated considerable amount of comment from pen-pushers of various orientations in the front and op-ed pages of leading dailies. What has not been focused on is how it exposes the human rights activists in particular and the civil society in general on the police reforms front. A leading economic and political journal wondered in an editorial piece in September 2013 as to why police reforms fail to take off. This specifie incident gives an opportunity to explain and understand why.

Anybody with adequate interest in public administration is aware that the quality of the State Police leadership is a crucial factor in any State where unified command is in operation. The blame-game over intelligence-sharing is a futile exercise, but how is smooth cooperation between multiple police organisations to be expected when everyone knows that a DGP has been installed by bending the rules? Indeed a news report in The Hindu explained much in advance that the sole eligible officer according to rules will not be appointed despite his proven integrity and impeccable credentials on anti-insurgency, essentially to avoid cleansing (especially indiscriminate phone-tapping) and professionalisation of the intelligence wing of the State Police that he had promised. These are grave questions on police reforms in the context of Chhattisgarh, but even the champion of the anti-Salwa Judum campaign put it in writing that she’s not concerned with the DGP appointment in the State.

On the last day of January, the then DGP, Ramniwas, was to retire on superannuation. He had a chequered record inasmuch as on one hand, the Darbha valley ambush attack on the Congress convoy took place under his watch, and on the other, he turned the State Police headquarters into a democratic place and halted indiscri-minate lathi-charge on civil protesters which had been a hallmark of Raipur ever since the State came into existence. Ramniwas was highly praised for conducting a largely peaceful Assembly election in November 2013, at the cost of antagonising the IAS lobby for his operational initiatives; so he chose to await an extension of his term from the State Government instead of approaching the Supreme Court to get his assured two-year term in office. The coterie of the Chief Minister was more concerned about his most probable successor, the only officer serving in the DG rank in the State cadre, Giridhari Nayak.

This writer drew the attention of the High Court to pervasive news reports that the Chhattisgarh Government is bringing a Madhya Pradesh cadre officer, Dr Anand Kumar, as the next DGP, terming it a violation of provisions of the State Police Act. Section 12(2) of the Chhattisgarh Police Act 2007 stipulates that selection of the DGP can be made from amongst a panel of serving cadre officers or already deputed to cadre police officers, working in the DG rank or are cleared for promotion in that rank by the Departmental Promotion Committee. The Chhattisgarh High Court dismissed on January 31 the petition primarily as it did not consider the newspaper clipping adequate to substantiate the intentions of the government. It was said in the judgment of su-mmary dismissal that this is primarily a service matter and the petitioner not being a contender for the post of DGP, the PIL is not maintainable.

Legal objections raised in the petition were reproduced in letters written to officials in New Delhi by various people. The MoHA and DoPT chose to block the transfer of the MP-cadre officer serving in the IB as the Additional Director. Leaked news reports by the State Government in the Raipur edition of Hindi dailies held Rahul Gandhi responsible for turning down the request. The Ecection Commission of India was petitioned to get the post of the DGP filled, which was held by the third seniormost officer as in-charge. Again a review petition was filed in the High Court pointing out that after the Prakash Singh Judgment of the Supreme Court, police reforms in general and the DGP selection in particular is no longer merely a service matter. As also the fact that the SC in the said PIL had invoked Article 144 of Constitution, which enjoins all authorities, civil and judicial, within the Indian territory to work in aid of the Supreme Court. The chronology of the Prakash Singh case was presented to the HC to underscore the point that the burden of proof of violation of law is not on any petitioner now since ironically the established position is that the Union of India and at least 15 State governments are continuou-sly in violation of the case law. This petition was dismissed after two weeks but in the meanwhile an ultimatum from the ECI swung the wheels in Raipur and New Delhi.

Outgoing Chief Secretary Sunil Kumar Kurup employed his personal goodwill in New Delhi, earned during his posting in the MoHRD, to get the MoHA relax a January 1999 guideline regard-ing mandatory requirement of minimum 30 years of service for promotion to the DG. A very funny logic was employed that since selection is to be made from a panel of names and there’s only one officer in the eligible criterion region, one-or-two other officers should be promoted. An hour before he retired on February 28, Sunil Kumar cleared in the Departmental Promotion Committee the promotion of A.N. Upadhyay, who had joined service in December 1985, to the DG rank. The same evening the State Home Minister informed the media confirming the in-charge officer as a full-fledged DGP; his appointment orders were issued the next day. Obviously this out-of-turn promotion is violative of Article 14 as being against natural justice and equal application of law. Further, it is also violative of the guideline number two in the Prakash Singh judgment regarding the DGP selection; it stipulates that a panel of names needs to be made by the UPSC, a requirement given a convenient miss by the State Govern-ment.

According to news reports, the reason the State Government went to such lengths to stop the elevation of a sincere and honest officer as the DGP of the State is the insistence of an officer extremely close to CM Raman Singh. The ADG- Intelligence, Mukesh Gupta, who has held on to the intelligence portfolio through two ranks and more than four years despite colossal mishaps like the Chintalnar massacre of 2010 and the Jiram Valley ambush of 2013, and several in between. Indeed, at the time of the ambush attack which killed 39 Congress leaders and security personnel, this 1988 batch officer was also in-charge of VIP security. Interestingly, many in the BJP remember Mukesh Gupta as the former District Superintendent of Raipur in the early years of State formation, whose ham-handedness had earned former CM Ajit Jogi the sobriquet of a dictator. He was out of favour with the current dispensation until former DGP Vishwaranjan brought him back to prominence.

It may be recalled that this departmental quibble bears uncanny resemblance to another historical episode involving an upright and honest officer, Basudev Dubey, who also had six years of service in the DG rank and was superseded in 2004 like Giridhari Nayak. He chose not to agitate in a judicial forum; as a result a highly politicised officer, O.P. Rathore, was brought in and the latter remained grateful to the leadership for bringing him in by bending the rules and happily inflicted Salwa Judum on Chhattisgarh. No due diligence was carried out at the PHQ on the legality and suitability of every operation and its methods, something in which Ramniwas himself excelled. Salwa Judum not only killed, raped, thrashed and disposs-essed scores of hapless adivasis but also humiliated the State repeatedly in the Supreme Court. Indeed the recent appointment of the DGP nullifies the painstaking work done by former DGPs Anil M. Navaney and Ramniwas. The former officer initiated the herculean task of depoliticising the office of the DGP in the most passive manner, a big feat in the history of the Chhattisgarh PHQ. It may be noted that Navaney was appointed only after Vishwaran-jan had to resign at the express instructions of the RSS headquarters, a fate also suffered by his contemporary Chief Secretary, Mr Oommen. Ramniwas brought his healing-touch doctrine which he had successfully applied in Surguja to clear the mess created by encounter specialists. His strong belief in land reforms and social justice made him refuse the SECL security assurance for the Raoghat project because uneducated youth were being denied jobs in compensation. On one hand he defined humility and accessibility in an unprecedented manner, and on the other hand he asserted the rights of decision by experts in operational matters. The tenure of these two DGPs was marked by momentous improvements in police welfare and improved coordination between the State Police and Central paramilitary forces of late. The Chhattisgarh Government squandered these crucial advantages by undue and extensive political tinkering in policing affairs.

What is unfortunate is that none of this was taken up by the civil society or human rights activists. What can the attitude of not supporting the cause of police reforms, which is intrinsically linked to human rights violations, be called if not sheer hypocrisy? It did not end here as ques-tions were raised at the motive and integrity of this writer for approaching the court and social forum on this issue. Not too many of those raising these doubts had their painstak-ingly made public library shut down in Dante-wada, their mother and ex-wife harassed or were sent to jail for 10 days for the sole crime of protesting at Raj Bhavan to highlight the plight of tribal undertrials. It was pointed out that this writer is friendly with certain police officers in the Chhattisgarh Police, but it was convenien-tly forgotten that this writer has consistently opposed in Raipur all police atrocities. It was conveniently forgotten that the only officer who can ostensibly benefit from the PIL was the ADG-Prisons when this writer spent two days in the medical college hospital during his jail trip, his leg chained to the hospital bed.

Naysayers of police reforms are of two kinds. First, the cynics who believe nothing will ever improve. Second, those who demand immediate and tangible reforms. Neither of them help the cause. The presence of honest and conscientious police officers should not be made a precondition for joining and supporting the cause of police reforms. There are officers like Prakash Singh, whose hawkish views on Salwa Judum or anti-insurgency measures in the N-E, J&K are not faith-inspiring, but should he not be supported when he wants strict compliance of rules and procedures in the macro aspects of policing? Unfortunately, most such officers who take up all the space on police reform do not consider the issue of Chhattisgarh worthy of taking up in Delhi. They tend to forget that even if the absolutely knee-jerk solution suggested by the Second Administrative Reforms Commission of shifting law and order to the Concurrent List of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution is applied, the operational lever of policing will always remain in the State and district headquarters. Unless the civil society and human rights organisations learn to bring macro and micro issues of policing in harmony and support the in-field activists accordingly, police reforms will remain a chimera.

B.K. Manish is a Chhattisgarh-based tribal rights activist who is interested in governance reforms.