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  • 22 April, 2021

  • 8 Min Read

Police Reforms- Appointment of Police Chief and its analysis

Police Reforms- Appointment of Police Chief and its analysis

Need for Police Chief’s operational autonomy

  • 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.
  • While the principles of democratic accountability necessitate the police chief to remain answerable to the elected government at all times.
  • There is a need to ensure the right balance between conditioning the government’s legitimate role in appointing or removing the police chief with the need to safeguard the chief’s operational autonomy.

Need for an independent oversight authority

  • Need to shift the responsibility of appointment and removal from the government alone to a bipartisan, independent oversight body.
  • Establishing a state-level oversight body with a specified role in the appointment and removal of police chiefs was first suggested by the National Police Commission (NPC), constituted in 1979, and much later reaffirmed by the Supreme Court of India in its judgment in 2006, in Prakash Singh.
  • 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 on a multiparty State Police Board, also referred to as the State Security Commission (SSCs), instead (Section 8).
    • SSC composition: Made up of government officials, the Leader of the Opposition as well as independent members from civil society, the board provides the additional safeguard of civilian oversight over the appointment process.

Gaps in SSCs

  • India, however, has made little progress in constituting truly independent bodies.
  • While 26 States and the Union Territories have established SSCs, either through new police acts or amendments or through executive orders, 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.
  • Only four SSCs have held meetings since 2014, their design itself will have to be strengthened if they are to drive meaningful reforms.
  • 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.

Need for transparency

  • The critical component 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, range of experience and a performance appraisal of the candidates over the past 10 years.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Broad terms such as “on administrative grounds” or “in the public interest” continue to be retained in police acts to justify the government’s power to remove the police chief. Such terms remain liable to misuse.

T.P. Senkumar vs Union of India, 2017

  • Indeed, 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).
  • Clear and specific benchmarks need to be integrated into decision-making processes, both on appointments and removals, to prevent politically motivated adverse actions.

U.K. model on police reforms

  • In improving the transparency of the review process, the United Kingdom 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).
  • The proposed candidates are required to participate in a hearing organised by the police and crime panel in each area(made up of representatives from local councils and co-opted independent members) where questions centre on the candidate’s ability to “recognize and understand the separation of political and operational responsibilities in relation to the post”.
  • This constitutes a crucial step of the time-bound vetting process based on which the panel makes its recommendations on the suitability of the candidate.
  • Importantly, these panels have the power to veto (by a two-thirds majority) the proposed appointment as well.
  • On removals too, the panels allow the police chief an opportunity to respond to the allegations on the basis of which their removal is being sought as part of the scrutiny process.
  • Such steps can help ensure fairness in administrative decisions and need to be considered in our context as well in order 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.

Read more about Police Reforms at- https://www.aspireias.com/daily-news-analysis-current-affairs/Police-Reforms

Read about different Committees on Police Reforms at- https://www.aspireias.com/daily-news-analysis-current-affairs/Need-for-Police-reforms-in-India

Source: TH

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