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Tuesday, July 31, 2001

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Unwise and belligerent

By V. R. Lakshminarayanan

The reported transfer of three IPS officers to the Centre in a lightning stroke has rocked both police circles and citizens alike. There were rumours that some such a hit below the belt was on the anvil but sober people hoped that on such a trivial issue no rash action would be taken. The all-India Services were created to form a solid bridge in daily senior-level administration by recruiting the best and brightest among our youth, civil servants imbued with an all-India spirit and a common standard among the bureaucracy in the States and the Centre and a steady, planned and harmonious exchange of officers preserve a continuing touch with the people and the administration at the lower levels. This constant inflow and outflow was marked by mutual consent, fitness of the officer and as far as possible with the concurrence of the officer and in many cases the officers themselves were keen to play a part on the national canvas instead remaining unnoticed. This ensured a sense of unity, good relations between States and the Centre and among the services there developed an espirit d'corps that helped in the smooth functioning of the Government. But this sudden Central caveat has placed an axe at the root of all that Sardar Patel had planned and is flawed on many counts.

Selection to posts for sensitive offices in the Centre are made after a thorough check and never in haste. In the present operation the officers who were alleged to be involved in the June 30 imbroglio seem to have been chosen for this special honour by the Centre and on this score alone the order is tainted with mala fides. There is scant respect for the rule of law because these officers have to assist an inquiry commission presided over by a High Court Judge and they have been sought to be literally abducted so that they may not be able to defend themselves and they will have to receive an ex-parte indictment. At least the Government could have gone through the motions of a consultation with the State Government and informed the officers. They have a right to be heard. Audi alterem partem - is Law's mantra. Tested against that, the order drips with guilt. `Injustice' wrote the philosopher, `is the greatest blasphemy'. And blasphemous indeed is the command from the Delhi durbar, by not even sounding the State Government on this action, apart from the flagrant discourtesy of not having heard the victims. Like the midnight knock came the order and without any claim of official exigencies or special talents for the posts chosen, for there is no office in mind except externment from Tamil Nadu. The pity of it Iago, the pity of it!

It is no use pretending that these officers are being transferred for their role in the events of June 30 and in that case the issues are sub-judice. It is improper that at this stage that the Government of India should get involved in this misadventure. There is need for a lofty detachment if the Ministry of Home Affairs' credibility is not to be impugned. There is a judicial commission and the heavens won't fall if we wait a few days. Precipitate intervention shows a desperate effort to scuttle the inquiry. I am not taking sides. The incidents of June 30 were avoidable. One also expects the judicial commission to reiterate that in matters of arrest and prosecution, the Commissioner of Police shall not be told by any Minister, not even a Chief Minister whom he should or should not arrest. The Commissioner is answerable to law and law alone. It is a shame that this injunction of the Supreme Court is honoured in its breach all over the country, Delhi not excepted. This legal illiteracy has to be corrected. Political powers that be and their minions have to be told loud and clear that once a case is registered all Ministerial discretion stops and the law enters.

Moreover, a sudden transfer can be faulted on the ground of being a punishment without a charge or being heard. Punitive proceedings in ``purdha'' is repugnant to natural justice and abhorrent to the rule of law. A little pause to consult the Law Ministry, now headed by Mr. Jaitley would have saved the Government from this contretemps. No amount of official verbiage can provide a fig-leaf to the punitive stigma of this order. If the Governments go along with their decision, yet another stricture may follow from the Central Administrative Tribunal or the Supreme Court. There is yet the possibility of another mischievous fall out to this unpleasant situation. It may encourage officers to defy the authority of the State Government lest the Central Government not be offended. This bigamous danger is subversive of discipline and hence the ill-conceived measure should be given up. After all a High Court judge is going to give his verdict on these matters. Then condign action can be taken against the guilty. Till then, a little patience is needed to arrest an embarrassing tilt to the delicate Constitutional balance in Centre-State relations.

I am and so many are unhappy with the events of June 30. So also with the mass transfers of IPS and IAS officers witnessed over the last few weeks. It is a colossal waste of money and talent and a sacrifice of the morale. Let me say with full responsibility that but for a handful there are no committed party loyalists in any of the senior services. These transfers are chasing an illusion. Napolean Bonaparte observed nearly 200 years ago that no great deeds are achieved by merely transferring officials. Catch those who betray trust and deal out condign punishments. Rancour towards the Civil Services is opposed to our administrative culture. One more word: the State Government's retaliatory strike against the appointment of Dr. R. Rajagopalan as the NSG chief is as wrong as the Central Government's action. Two wrongs do not make a right. Please stop your political fights through proxy action against neutral civil servants. Otherwise it may prove to be a catastrophe which may haunt us for years to come.

(The writer is a former Director-General of Police, Tamil Nadu.)

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