The order of the Ministry of Home Affairs, taking three IPS (Indian Police Service) officers of the West Bengal cadre on central deputation and the refusal of the state government to relieve them, has become the latest episode in the old proxy war between the Trinamool Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party.
BJP chief J.P. Nadda had been travelling from Sirakol to Diamond Harbour to address a public meeting during his visit to the election-bound state on December 9-10. Several cars in his motorcade were damaged and some BJP leaders and workers were injured when protesters carrying TMC flags threw stones at them.
Bholanath Pandey (SP, Diamond Harbour), Praveen Tripathi (DIG, Presidency Range), and Rajeev Mishra (IG, South Bengal) happened to be posted as in-charges of the police district, range and zone respectively.
Reacting to this incident, the MHA first summoned the chief secretary and the DGP (director general of police) of the state for ‘discussion’ with the home secretary on December 14. They declined, stating that their presence at the proposed meeting be dispensed with and added that the state government ‘was already addressing the issue with utmost seriousness’.
A day after that, the MHA issued the deputation order. The three IPS officers have already been assigned central organisations, namely, BPR&D (Bureau of Police Research and Development), SSB (Sashastra Seema Bal), and ITBP (Indo-Tibetan Border Police) respectively.
The Centre’s position and its legality
From a strictly legal point of view, there is nothing wrong in the order of central deputation issued by the MHA. According to Rule 6(1) of the IPS (Cadre) Rules, 1954, the position since July 1985 is that in case of any disagreement the matter shall be decided by the Central government and the state government or state governments concerned shall give effect to the decision of the Centre.
Moreover, IG Mishra and DIG Tripathi have already been empanelled to hold IG and DIG-level posts in the Central government. There is no system of empanelment of SP level officers. This means that they are eligible for deputation.
The state government’s position
Seeking the concurrence of the state government is a good practice in a federal system even if not strictly required.
A similar dispute between the Centre and the state had arisen in May 2014 in the case of Archana Ramasundaram, then in the IPS in Tamil Nadu cadre. She had received an order for deputation to the CBI. However, when she proceeded to join the CBI, the state government issued a suspension order for her. However, in December 2016, the Delhi high court held that the decision of the Tamil Nadu government to suspend her was prompted by ‘legal malice’.
Though her circumstances were a little different from those of the West Bengal officers, the fact remains that, in the end, the Centre prevailed over the state.
What the State can argue in its defence
In this case, the state government can very well argue what special purpose in the central organisations would be served by these three officers. After all, there is no evidence that they had ever demonstrated any special aptitude for the works related to BPR&D, SSB and ITBP. There are a total of 3,894 IPS officers in the country. What difference can just three SP, DIG and IG-level officers make?
Moreover, the Centre has itself been raising questions over the deteriorating law and order situation in the state for a long time. For the Nadda incident also, Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar accused the bureaucracy of ignoring his warning about a potential threat to law and order.
In such a situation, how can it be claimed that deskwork in the BPR&D or border guarding duty in the SSB and ITBP (which, in any case, have huge cadres of all ranks) is more important for the nation than maintenance of law and order in the state, which affects the public directly?
Real motive of the Centre
The usual procedure of central deputation is that, from the states, officers have to place their names in an ‘offer list’. Merely placing one’s name on the offer list is no guarantee that they would get their deputations. Since the number of officers seeking deputations might exceed the number of posts available in the centre, it goes through a process of screening.
However, more importantly, once the state government has forwarded the offer list to the MHA, it means that the state government has no objection to their being relieved for deputation in case it comes through.
In this case (though it has not been possible to confirm) the officers had not placed their names on the offer list. According to an August 2019 media report, there are 14 central police organisations and armed police forces, but no more than 16 IPS officers were available on the offer list.
Strictly speaking, in terms of Rule 6(2)(ii) of the IPS (Cadre) Rules, 1954, the consent of even the officers themselves is not required except for deputation to an international organisation, an autonomous body not controlled by the government, or a private body.
In this case, however, doubts shall be raised as to what the extreme urgency and provocation was for issuing deputation orders for the three IPS officers.
A section of the media has wrongly projected it as ‘action against the trio’. This is plainly wrong. Deputation, in case of willing officers, is mostly seen as a reward, not a punishment.
Lack of maturity on both sides
The Centre might have wanted action to be taken against them for negligence in not having been able to protect Nadda’s motorcade from attack or, according to some media reports, their having been ‘extremely pro-Trinamool’ for a long time, to the extent that they were ‘almost cadres’ of the party.
Apparently, they felt that the state government would be averse to taking any action against them and this frustrated them. Maybe they were irritated because the chief secretary et al declined their ‘summon’. However, ‘forcibly’ sending officers on central deputation is not the solution to such systemic issues of a federal system.
While on deputation, no disciplinary action can be taken against them by the Centre for something that happened when they were under the state government.
If at all the purpose is to harass them, the DIG and IG rank officers might be given postings at places, which are ‘inconvenient’ to them from the point of view of keeping families with them or education of their children. We will have to wait and watch.
May be the Centre just wanted to show the chief minister as to who is the boss in the matter of IPS officers. This would, however, still be childish because if the chief minister really wants to do something in furtherance of political one-upmanship, it can very well be done through a very large number of state police service and subordinate officers also — IPS officers are not the only ‘tool’ at her disposal.
In this entire sordid saga, raising hell over the ‘forcible’ sending of three IPS officers on central deputation is not the main issue. What is regrettable is the way the spirit of federalism is being ridiculed and torn in the obduracy of the two governments, arising out of petty politics of one-upmanship. As this article is being written, the impasse continues. Let us see whether it gets uglier or saner counsel prevails.
Dr. N.C. Asthana, a retired IPS officer, has been DGP Kerala and a long-time ADG CRPF and BSF. Views are personal. He tweets @NcAsthana.