The political whodunit in Maharashtra is unfolding so rapidly that everyone missed a moment of supreme irony; initiating damage control early on, NCP leader Sharad Pawar suggested an inquiry headed by Julio Ribeiro, one of Mumbai’s best remembered police chiefs.
Now, Ribeiro has been a votary of police professionalism for three decades but no one paid any heed. On the contrary, Mumbai has seen a succession of tainted police commissioners. Finally, when things went awry and one such commissioner spilt the beans, politicians began looking for someone with credibility, not for the commissioner’s post but for a whitewash job!
As expected, Ribeiro scoffed at the offer, saying that he would not touch it with a barge pole. Squarely blaming the politicians, he said that the mess was of their own making and that they ought to sort it out themselves.
Taken by surprise
One can say that the ruling coalition, the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA), was taken by surprise; it is not every day that the home minister is publicly accused of extortion by a top cop. Here, the cop, Param Bir Singh, also challenged his removal as Mumbai police commissioner.
There were rumblings of discontent in the top echelons of the Maharashtra police but the novice CM failed to notice them. In December, Subodh Kumar Jaiswal, who enjoys a clean image, quit midway through his term as the Director-General to take up a Central government assignment. This was unprecedented but bigger shocks were in store.
Jaiswal was not as noisy as Singh was to be but as a parting shot, he let it be known that his report on the practice of lobbying for posts was dumped by the government. Instead of taking corrective action, Home Minister Anil Deshmukh went for the whitewash option; a meeting with former state police chiefs to improve the image of the Maharashtra police.
All this while, Sanjay Pandey, another public-spirited officer with a squeaky clean reputation, had been reminding the government that as the state’s most senior IPS officer, he deserved a better posting than the one at the Home Guards. When he was given another insignificant posting as chief of the State Security Commission, Pandey lashed out at the government in an open letter, revealing, among other things, embarrassing details of official inquiries he had been assigned to.
However, the IPS volcano truly erupted two days later, on March 20, with Param Bir releasing a letter that singed the MVA government. Param Bir may well have been a scapegoat in the Antilia case but the last straw for him was public humiliation; Deshmukh blamed him on TV, saying he had committed `unpardonable’ mistakes.
This was a deplorable lack of finesse on the minister’s part. Politicians feel that they can ride roughshod over the bureaucracy without inviting a backlash. Sharad Pawar himself as CM had announced the transfer of Sanjay Pandey, then deputy commissioner of the Dharavi zone, at a press conference. However, he had the good sense to cancel it when several citizens’ groups came out in support of Pandey.
Normally, an astute administrator like Pawar would have sensed the danger afoot. After all, this is the same man who 15 years ago had spoken disparagingly about the `transfer industry’.
Now, damaging details of the Jaiswal report are being read out in the assembly by the leader of the opposition, Devendra Fadnavis.
At citizens' expense
Officers 'purchase’ lucrative postings but the price is ultimately paid by the citizens. Needless to say, only the dishonest have the money to bid for postings. Has anyone asked why 26/11 hero Sadanand Date heads the insignificant coastal commissionerate and not Pune, Thane or Navi Mumbai?
IPS officers who buy plum postings rake it in with impunity; their 'collection agents’ are an open secret. One such officer who was posted to Navi Mumbai set monthly 'collection’ targets for all the police stations despite the fat earnings from the town’s dance bars. And all this happened under the late R R Patil as home minister.
Dance bars were such a corrupting influence on the cops that an upright deputy commissioner in Mumbai had to bypass the police station hierarchy and send fresh recruits to monitor their timings. During one of his night rounds, this DCP, now a top cop, was perhaps mistaken for the local inspector by a dance bar owner who not only abused him but also raised his hand on him; Mumbai’s Vikas Dubey moment.
Nightlife is a big source of earnings for cops and their masters which is why it faces no curbs even when Covid is spiking.
Not only do rogue cops book businessmen under false charges, there have been instances of cops turning highway robbers and kidnappers. Those thus kidnapped have been hidden in the office of at least one Mumbai DCP. These criminals in uniform make a mockery of the Maharashtra police motto: Sadrakshanaya Khalnigrahanaya (Protector of the Law-Abiding and Annihilator of the Evil).
The Telgi fake stamp paper scam where several senior police officers were arrested is fresh in memory. The joke at the time was that it was possible to form a commissionerate in jail.
On the other hand, the handful of honest officers who have got executive postings without lobbying are afraid that their corrupt colleagues will conspire to get them out on false charges. One only has to read former IPS officer Y P Singh’s book, 'Carnage by Angels’ to know how the system works.
The posting transfer industry can be traced back to the time when coalition governments were formed in Maharashtra. According to Y P Singh, today all fear of the law has vanished and an extortion industry too is flourishing.
Postings right down to that of a constable are on sale. The going rate for the inspector in charge of a busy railway police station in Mumbai is Rs 50 lakh. Corrupt cops also need not fear adverse remarks in their annual confidential reports, the minister expunges them.
The systemic corruption in the Mumbai traffic police was exposed when Head Constable Sunil Toke filed a PIL in 2017 alleging rampant corruption and even provided a rate card. But why talk about traffic cops when politicians make money even in the purchase of bullet-proof vests and CCTVs.
There was a time when the ‘encounter specialists’, having amassed cash and clout through encounters (mostly contract killings on behalf of rival gangsters), became a force within a force.
A few good men
There are honest officers at every police station but they are wary of becoming a ‘Velankar’, the frustrated sub-inspector who takes to alcohol; Om Puri in the Govind Nihalani classic, ‘Ardha Satya’.
Mumbai and Maharashtra have seen several public-spirited commissioners and DGs since Ribeiro’s time; to name a few: D S Soman, Vasant Saraf, Satish Sahney, Arvind Inamdar, A N Roy, Ronald Mendonca, K Subramanyam, Sanjeev Dayal, Ahmad Javed and Dattatray Padsalgikar. The acting DGP Rajnish Seth too is a conscientious cop.
The list would be longer and the force more citizen-friendly had police reforms insulating cops from political interference been implemented. Today, the Mumbai police, who were once compared to the Scotland Yard, are market yard.
The writer is an independent journalist based in Mumbai. He welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.