Chief Minister Siddaramaiah heads for confrontation with Supreme Court
statesman news service
BANGALORE, 14 JUNE: The Siddaramaiah-led Congress government is cocking a snook at the Supreme Court with its decision to curtail the powers of the Police Establishment Board (PEB). Within a month of its coming to power, it has sought to take over the board&’s authority to transfer police officers above the rank of additional superintendent, according to an amendment to the PEB Act that was passed this week in the state Assembly.
Predictably, the Opposition has been crying foul, arguing that the amendment runs contrary to the Supreme Court&’s ruling on the matter. The apex court has stated in its earlier rulings that all police postings and related transfers have to be done under the aegis of the PEB. At present, the board comprises the state police chief and three senior-most officers.
Of equal concern is the government move to reduce the tenure of policemen above the rank of superintendent of police in operational posts to one year from the two stipulated by the apex court. Now, as per the amendment, the government will have the powers to choose any three police officers, not necessarily the senior-most, to be on the PEB along with the police chief. Accordingly, it has allowed itself the option of “manipulating the PEB” by posting “pliable officers”.
The move has been criticised by the Opposition even as state Home Minister K J George sought to defend the government stand. Mr M C Naniah, JD-S, for example, charged the government with seeking to bring the Bill without adequate thought. Placing complete authority of transfers in the hands of the government is ill-advised, he said, adding that “the police department should be devoid of political interference”. BJP members, including Mr G Madhusudan, Mr Ganesh Karnik, Mr K Shanappa, on their part, urged the government to re-examine the amendment, urging it to refrain from taking a hasty decision. They argued that the move would demoralise the police department which would easily be exposed to the influence of ruling party members. His colleagues warned that the morale of the honest officials would hit a new low as the government would “now be able to transfer them depending on its whims and fancies”.
Mr George, however, questioned the Opposition&’s claims, stating that the proposed Bill would comply with the apex court&’s directions “in respect of police reforms, besides ensuring effective functioning of the PEB”. The opposition, though, was relentless in urging the government to keep the Bill in abeyance as it went against the Supreme Court&’s directive, besides defeating the very purpose for which the PEB was set up. At present, the government has the powers to modify PEB decisions in exceptional cases. Now, it would have the powers to transfer officers of and above the rank of Superintendent within a year in the event of “misconduct, negligence or an act of moral turpitude”.
Senior police officials who declined to go on record, voiced their concern over the move, adding that the government could face a major embarrassment in courts, “more so as the Supreme Court had not spared the Prime Minister&’s office for interfering with the functioning of the CBI in the coalgate scam”. Another cited the BJP government&’s attempt to control police postings in the state earlier.
According to a source, the then government had transferred Additional Commissioner of Police Suneel Kumal, who had challenged the order. Karnataka High Court accepted his contention. It also ruled that the state did not have the powers to transfer IPS officers, something only the PEB enjoyed.
Under the circumstances, sources feel that the Congress government would find itself on a slippery wicket when confronted in the courts. In addition, the High Court had also intervened when the BJP government sought to remove Mr B Umapathi, one of the senior-most IPS officers from the PEB earlier.