It is not pleasant for a former police commissioner of Mumbai to open the newspapers these days and read about the corruption allegations against Param Bir Singh, who was the city’s top cop until March. I was proud of being a member of the Indian Police Service for 36 years but when I learn that IPS officers have been reduced to begging for positions and even paying for them, I grieve for those who staff the service today.

I grieve also for the citizens who are to be served by those who have sold their souls to politicians, who will extract their price for appointing them.

The police commissioner of Mumbai was one of the city’s two important executive appointments, the other being the municipal commissioner. If these two officials did their duty in a spirit of service to the people, the people would not only applaud but also remember them for all time.

Allegations of corruption

Instead, the headlines claim that the transfers of 10 deputy commissioners of police ordered by the police chief were countermanded by two political heavyweights in exchange for Rs 40 crore, to be shared by the two political heavyweights who had intervened.

Now, if deputy commissioners have to collect this sort of money to right a perceived wrong, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that corruption has gone through the roof and that a professional leader is not required to head the city’s police force anymore. The home minister should run it directly from the administrative offices of Mantralaya.

In that case, the entire system of police administration would need to be changed. If politicians are to don the uniform, they will also have to take responsibility for any faults and fissures in the delivery mechanism. If they want laws to be broken, like Anil Deshmukh the disgraced Home Minister of Maharashtra was alleged to have hinted to an associate of the former police commissioner, then the minister should directly take the rap for the spread of criminality that would inevitably result

For far too long, the political class has shot from the shoulders of those in their power. The police reforms, mandated by the Dharam Vira Commission, and upheld in the Supreme Court’s judgment of 2006 in the Prakash Singh case, had attempted to address the core issue of the politicisation of the police. But no political party in power, at the Centre or in the states, is willing to loosen its stranglehold over the police. They continue to misuse the vast powers reposed in the police by law to further their own agendas.

The Supreme Court had mandated a certain procedure for selection of senior police leaders. Very clever and subtle methods have been devised to scuttle the directions of the court. For example, the Establishment Boards that are constituted to weed out corrupt or incompetent officers will find a bureaucrat presiding over the proceedings instead of the director general of police who is the head of the force. This ensures that the minister’s preferences and diktats prevail over professional judgment.

Subodh Jaiswal, Maharashtra’s director general of police, had been reduced to a virtual cipher by the state’s home minister. His word counted for nothing – and the rank and file knew it. Because he was a man of integrity he decided to move to the Centre on deputation earlier this year, depriving the state of a truly good police leader.

Clear rules

In my time in Maharashtra (1953-1985), the institutional rules were clear. Our boss was the inspector general of police, who supervised the law and order mechanism with the assistance of the deputy inspectors general and the superintendents of police. All appointments and transfers of Indian Police Service officers were made by the government on the recommendations of the inspector general.

The rank and file knew that their individual careers were dependant on convincing their own immediate supervisors in the department and the inspector general of police that they were worthy of higher office. If now the political bosses are going to decide issues of performance and discipline on the basis of monies exchanged or patronage, the end-users will not get what is due to them, which is service and justice.

If the commissioner’s post is being auctioned or sold, as is widely rumoured today in police circles, all respect for their bosses will vanish. Money, not performance, will be the new totem. The corrupt will be in charge of providing security to the citizens. Which means that sundry lawbreakers, assisted by criminals in uniform, will guide our destinies.

This is the message that the former home minister of Maharashtra, Anil Deshmukh, and the absconding ex-commissioner of the city police, Param Bir Singh, are sending us with all their complaints and allegations against each other now voiced in courts through their lawyers.

The rank and file know the inside story. They know that the planting of a car with gelatin sticks near the mansion of the country’s leading industrialist could not have been effected by a junior police officer without his chief’s knowledge and involvement. And they know that the home minister would not have asked the top cop’s lieutenant to collect money for him or his party unless the minister and the police commissioner were in cahoots.

If the Central Bureau of Investigation and the National Investigation Agency want to ascertain the truth of the matter and break the nexus between cops, criminals and politicians they have only to place before the public the file that recorded the reinstatement in service of Sachin Vaze, the officer with scores of extra-judicial killings under his belt, though his trial for murder had not even started.

Some months ago, the Bombay High Court had demanded that Vaze’s reinstatement file be produced in court. The public was encouraged by the order but nothing has come of it. What has stopped this vital piece of evidence from being put on the table?

Morally reprehensible

The reinstatement of Sachin Vaze was not only irregular but also morally reprehensible. He was a virtual criminal in uniform and he has proved his credentials as a criminal by being arrested by the National Investigation Agency for allegedly murdering the owner of the car that was planted near the Ambani house.

These developments, which have totally demoralised the Mumbai City Police and shamed most retired and most serving officers of the Indian Police Service, are a stark reminder that police reforms cannot be delayed any further. The power of transfers and appointments of senior Indian Police Service officers and the choice of police leaders at the cutting edge cannot be left to the politicians in power alone. The leader of the opposition and the chief justice of the state should be associated with the selection of the state’s director general of police and the Mumbai police commissioner.

If a proper choice had been made for the post of Mumbai’s police commissioner, all this disgrace could have been avoided. Hence the compulsion of adopting police reforms in spirit, besides mere words.

Julio Ribeiro served in several senior positions as a police officer and was India’s ambassador to Romania.