A drastic overhaul of the obsolete Bombay Police Act is needed, writes Olav Albuquerque

Cyclone Tauktae and the Covid-19 deaths have eclipsed a vital news item – that of former Police Chief Param Bir Singh’s petition seeking a transfer of all inquiries against him outside Maharashtra being delayed because Supreme Court Justice Bhushan Gavai recused from hearing it. Perhaps the learned judge was caught in a quandary, which was why he rightly recused himself. But Param Bir Singh fears he will be found guilty in a ‘witch-hunt’ of five inquiries initiated against him - conceivably the result of his alleging former home minister Anil Deshmukh used rogue cop Sachin Vaze to ‘collect’ Rs 100 crore per month as hafta from Mumbai dance bars.

That there is substance in Param Bir’s complaint to the Maharashtra government against Anil Deshmukh is amply clear after the CBI lodged an FIR against the latter, followed by the Enforcement Directorate investigation against Deshmukh, who ordered an in-house probe against Param Bir. This itself shows Deshmukh allegedly wanted to seek revenge against Param Bir. Had Deshmukh resigned before ordering a probe against Param Bir, its legality would have been questionable.

Whether Deshmukh will ever be convicted is debatable, given the CBI’s abysmal track record. But Deshmukh could not have wanted the huge amount of Rs 100 crore per month for himself. The N N Vohra Committee report of 1993 had named Sharad Pawar, with other netas, for allegedly having links with the underworld. Pawar did defend Anil Deshmukh before the media but these facts do not implicate him in the Rs 100 crore extortion scam.

Right to know

In a democracy, the people have a right to know what transpired during the courtesy call Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray paid to the chief justice of the Bombay high court, Dipankar Dutta, on May 14. Nobody doubts the integrity of the chief justice but urgency demands that the rising Covid curve needs to be tackled before such courtesy calls are made. When Chief Justice Dipankar Dutta is elevated to the Supreme Court-- as he eventually will be-- he will know how politicians in Maharashtra work.

Similarly, we will never know why Justice Bhushan Gavai recused himself from hearing Param Bir Singh’s petition in the Supreme Court. Justice Gavai is a future CJI-in-waiting and is a son of the late Ramkrishna Suryabhan Gavai, a founder of the Republican Party of India and governor of three states. Recusals take place when a judge feels he cannot do justice because he is intimately connected with either the litigant or the facts of the case. Justice Gavai was a government pleader before the Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court before his elevation while Anil Deshmukh hails from Vad Vihira village near Katol in Nagpur district. One can only speculate if the two were acquainted.

Another curious development is most of the complaints and FIRs against Param Bir Singh got an impetus only after he complained against Anil Deshmukh. Param Bir Singh recorded an alleged attempt made by Director General of Police Sanjay Pandey to force him (Param Bir) to withdraw his complaint against Anil Deshmukh. Sanjay Pandey, who was unhappy at being overlooked for the DGP’s post, decided that unlike his predecessor, Subodh Jaiswal, adapting to the needs of the government was the wisest choice.

IPS and IAS officers know they have to either adapt to their government-employers or quit the service. This is why Transport Minister Anil Parab, who is alleged to have demanded Rs 2 crore from sacked rogue cop Sachin Vaze, if the latter wanted to “continue in his post” will also have his statement recorded by the CBI. Lowly APIs are not supposed to even meet ministers, let alone take orders from them. But that is in the Police Manual and the Bombay Police Act, 1951, which ministers and some IPS officers ignore.

Phone-tapping case

Another link in the chain is the summoning of 1988-batch IPS officer and former head of state intelligence Rashmi Shukla for the alleged leak of her report to opposition leader Devendra Fadnavis. The Mumbai police summoned her from Hyderabad to record her statement but she refused to come to Mumbai and filed a writ petition in the high court citing Covid restrictions and fearing being made a scapegoat after being arrested. Chief Secretary Sitaram Kunte indicted her for allegedly misusing the permission she got to tap phones of netas like Anil Deshmukh and policemen who may have paid bribes to rescind their transfers. Like Param Bir, Shukla is inconvenient.

Former DGP Subodh Jaiswal, like Shukla, sought Central deputation after he allegedly refused to sign the transfer list given to him. Now, common sense dictates that three IPS officers like Subodh Jaiswal, Rashmi Shukla and Param Bir Singh cannot all have imaginary grouses against the government. Perhaps, Param Bir Singh, like Rashmi Shukla, Subodh Jaiswal, and now Sanjay Pandey, should have remained quiet to survive in the system. Param Bir spoke out and has been implicated under the Prevention of Corruption Act. His tryst with the home department is not yet over.

Systemic overhaul

Encounter cops like Sachin Vaze, Pradeep Sharma and Daya Nayak cannot stay in the police without the tacit approval of their top political bosses. That Pradeep Sharma lost the assembly elections in 2019 against gangster Hitendra Thakur, on the ticket of a political party is well-known. This violates the rules of the Bombay Police Act that policemen should be apolitical. These political parties use such encounter cops to do their dirty work before discarding them.

The theory that Vaze alone planned the parking of the gelatin sticks-laden Scorpio outside Mukesh Ambani’s home to win acclaim that he solved the crime which he alone planned is difficult to swallow. It is more likely he succumbed to pressure exerted by some politicians who will never be exposed. That is why we need a drastic overhaul of the obsolete Bombay Police Act, 1951 and the Indian Police Act, 1861, to jail policemen who bypass their superiors to take orders from ministers. But that will never happen.

If we do not reform the entire system so that policemen do only what they are trained to do, which is to maintain law and order and investigate crime, politicians will continue to mulct the system to make a farce out of law and order.

The writer holds a PhD in law and is a journalist-cum-lawyer of the Bombay high court.

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