Four out of ten Indian Police Services (IPS) officers transferred by Maharashtra over the last one year and a half stayed on their posts or assignments for less than two years, according to data obtained under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Though service rules in the state stipulate a two-year normal tenure for senior officers, an RTI reply reveals that 52 out of the 129 IPS transfers between January 1, 2016, and August 31, 2017, were mid-term.
With norms restricting use of such transfers to exceptional circumstances, several retired IPS officers and activists have questioned the trend.
According to rules, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who also heads the state’s home department, has powers to sanction mid-term transfers. Senior home department officials, when contacted, contended that the mid-term transfers were carried out to account for “promotions, repatriations, and administrative exigencies”.
The data, obtained by The Indian Express from the home department, shows that all mid-term transfers during the period had been effected in 2016 itself. A total of 73 IPS officers were transferred between January 1, 2016, and December 31, 2016.
After coming to office on October 31, 2014, the Devendra Fadnavis government had carried out its first major IPS reshuffle in April 2015. While some of these officers featured in the general transfer window in 2017, the bone of contention for the government is the transfers effected between 2015 and 2017.
While Section 22(n) (2) of the Maharashtra Police Act grants the chief minister the power to carry out mid-term transfers in “public interest and in cases of administrative exigency”, it also states that the provisions must be used only in “exceptional cases”. But with 40 per cent of the IPS officers transferred using this power, questions are being raised on how it is fast becoming a norm for transfers. When contacted, Fadnavis ruled out any political interference, stating that all the transfers “were put up by the department only”.
Prakash Singh, a former Uttar Pradesh Police chief whose petition before the Supreme Court had resulted in states being directed to reduce political interference in police transfers, when contacted, said, “The SC has mandated security of tenure in operational assignments. If an officer is transferred before this tenure, he will stop taking long-term interest in his assignments. He will become cynical, which is not good for the administration. Premature transfers are open to serious objections.”
Not wishing to be named, a retired Maharashtra IPS officer who has served on the Police Establishment Board (PEB-I) formed to recommend police postings, said Section 22(n) (2) of the Maharashtra Police Act was normally used only if there was an exceptional case — such as the recent Sangli custodial death controversy where a suspected robber was allegedly beaten to death while in police custody, which saw the then Sangli Superintendent of Police DT Shinde and his deputy, Dipali Kale, being shunted out. “While it is not unusual for the CM to take recourse to the section during the general transfer season (normally April-May), there have to be exceptional circumstances if the section has been applied in other cases too,” he added.
The RTI data, however, shows 48 out of the 52 premature transfers weren’t carried out during the general transfer season. These took place either in January, June, and November of 2016. According to a senior serving Maharashtra IPS officer, the mid-term transfers that one saw in January 2016 were mainly to assign fresh posting to promoted officials. “The whole idea was to give them a suitable post soon after their promotion, instead of waiting for the general transfer season. The practice is also followed in the Indian Administrative Services,” he said.
Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Sudhir Shrivastava, a 1983-batch IAS officer, echoed this viewpoint. “Mid-term transfers happened to ensure that promotions of all officers were done as soon as they become eligible. Since the date of eligibility for promotions was in January, transfers carried out were to account for the fact that the promotions and the annual transfer timetables do not overlap,” he said.
Between June and December, the RTI data shows, 18 IPS officers were transferred prematurely. While a serving officer attributed these to retirements and repatriations from central postings, a senior home department official said, “We would need to check the context for each one of these transfers.”
Among the notable mid-term transfers effected by the CM was that of S Jagannathan (a 1991 -batch IPS), the then police commissioner of Nashik who was transferred within a year of joining the post. While he was promoted, he was transferred as Additional DG (Training and Special Squads), which is considered a light posting in police circles. His successor in Nashik, Ravindra Singhal (1996), had also served just a year as Special IG (Training and Special Squads) before taking over.
Incidentally, in May this year, the Mumbai Police busted a racket where a former senior bureaucrat along with other gang members duped IPS officers by promising them postings of their choice.