On Tuesday, violent clashes broke out between Dalits and upper-caste Thakurs in Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh for the third time since May 5. The very next day, the Bharatiya Janata Party government in the state promptly transferred two senior police officers of the district along with the district magistrate and divisional commissioner.

Deputy Inspector General Jitendra Kumar Shahi was transferred to the fire services department and KS Emanuel was brought in his place. Senior Superintendent of Police Subhash Chandra Dubey was placed under suspension and later replaced with his Muzaffarnagar counterpart Babloo Kumar. With this, Saharanpur saw its third district police chief in eight months, and sixth in the last year and a half.

Uttar Pradesh is known for its high transfer rate of senior police officials, which is often said to be one of the primary reasons for the inefficient ground-level policing in the state. Developments in Saharanpur in the past eight months, in particular, can be taken as a classic case.

Dubey was given charge of an already boiling Saharanpur merely 26 days before his suspension. On April 20, Dalits and Muslims in one locality of the district had clashed over an Ambedkar Jayanti procession led by BJP MP Raghav Lakhanpal Sharma that reportedly did not have police permission. Dubey’s posting was necessitated by the sudden transfer of his predecessor Love Kumar in a major reshuffle some four days after he accused Sharma of instigating a mob to attack his house and lodged a first information report against him. The provocation, Kumar alleged, was that he had stopped the procession backed by the MP following clashes between the two communities.

Kumar had been posted to Saharanpur in September after being shunted out of Aligarh, where he was heading an investigation into an incident of violence among student groups. In the course of the investigation, some women students of a college had come forward alleging that they were assaulted on campus by student wing members of the Samajwadi Party, which was then in power in the state.

“When it comes to frequent transfer of senior police officials in Uttar Pradesh, merit seldom finds any place on the list of reasons,” said Prakash Singh, a former director general of the Uttar Pradesh Police. “Most of the rapid transfers can be attributed to political reasons, followed by corruption and factors like caste. The situation has turned worse in the past 15 years, despite the governments in the state having changed.”

Police personnel guard a checkpoint in Saharanpur district. (Credit: Gulam Jeelani / HT)

Topping the transfer list

The Bureau of Police Research and Development publishes an annual report on police organisations in the country, a chapter of which is dedicated to transfers of district police heads with tenures of less than two years.

In March, journalism non-profit IndiaSpend published an analysis of transfers of Indian Police Service officers across states and Union territories based on data from the Bureau of Police Research and Development’s reports for a nine-year period starting 2007. It found that the transfer of district police chiefs in Uttar Pradesh accounted for 43% of all such transfers nationwide.

There were 2,251 transfers pertaining to district police heads (superintendents of police, senior superintendents of police and deputy inspector generals who head a set of districts in their ranges) in the said nine-year period in Uttar Pradesh, followed by Tamil Nadu (453), Madhya Pradesh (244) and Punjab (239). Dividing each of these numbers by nine would give the annual rate of transfer for each state – so the average for Uttar Pradesh would be 250.1, followed by Tamil Nadu (50.3), Madhya Pradesh (27.1) and Punjab (26.6).

For a ground-level interpretation of these numbers, one would also have to take into account the number of districts these police departments have. While Uttar Pradesh presently has 75 districts, Tamil Nadu has 40, Madhya Pradesh 51 and Punjab 24. So, the transfer rate per district per year (for senior officials with tenures shorter than two years) would be 3.3 for Uttar Pradesh, 1.3 for Tamil Nadu, 0.5 for Madhya Pradesh and 1.1 for Punjab. This would mean that each district in Uttar Pradesh got a new police chief every seven months, while the gap was 18 months for Tamil Nadu and 22 months for Punjab.

The figures, however, can only present a rough sketch as each of these police departments might have expanded districts at various points of time. Also, they exclude the special units (such as those pertaining to traffic, criminal investigation, anti-terrorism and administration) that every police department has.

Through various governments

“Officers need time to take control of a district or unit and transferring them in a matter of months definitely affects the quality of policing on the ground,” said Prakash Singh. “Hence, we see the present situation of law and order in Uttar Pradesh.”

Uttar Pradesh has the highest sanctioned strength (517) of Indian Police Service officers among states. As of January 1, 2016, it had 404 Indian Police Service officers, or 21.9% less than the sanctioned strength.

There were several rounds of major transfers in Uttar Pradesh in the above mentioned nine-year period. Between 2007 and 2011, when the Bahujan Samaj Party was in power, there was an average of 134 transfers within a year of posting, around 200 transfers between one and two years of posting, and 261 each year during the full five-year term, said the IndiaSpend article, attributing the numbers to reports of the Bureau of Police Research and Development.

The Samajwadi Party government shifted around 100 Indian Police Service officers as soon as it took office in March 2012. In January 2016, the Akhilesh Yadav-led government transferred 80 senior police officers, followed by 50 officers – including some transferred in the January round – the next month.

After the BJP came to power in Uttar Pradesh in March, the state has witnessed three major reshuffles with 133 Indian Police Service officers getting transfer orders, excluding those shifted under extraordinary circumstances like the one seen in Saharanpur.