Cleaning up India's police: Here's what can remove corruption among top cops

Newspapers on Sunday carried a story that an Additional Commissioner of Police of Bengaluru has been suspended for his suspected ties with a lottery kingpin of the underworld. To boot this, a few other senior serving and retired IPS officers, including a former DGP, have been mentioned as possible accomplices.

This shocking development comes on the heels of the suspension and likely arrest of an IGP in Tamil Nadu for getting mixed up with a bookie connected to cricket betting. A third shameful recent episode was the reported malpractice of a senior Kerala IPS officer while he was writing his Law degree examination. The invigilator who brought this to the notice of the authorities has since gone back on his complaint, something that may not pass muster with the general public.

That all these pertain to the South is coincidental. It does not for a moment suggest that lack of integrity is the sole monopoly of IPS officers in this region alone. There are many of their brethren in other parts of the country who have been guilty of equally egregious, if not graver misconduct.

AFP image.

AFP image.

This is appalling and that's putting it mildly. Unless halted, we will soon reach a stage when questions will be raised across the country on the justification for the continuance of the IPS as an All India Service, along with the IAS.

At one time, the two predecessor services, viz., the ICS and IP, were jewels in the crown, which lent stability to what was once looked upon as the 'steel frame'. It is an entirely different proposition that this famous description of one of our prestigious institutions has been replaced by 'bamboo frame', one that is supposed to vividly describe the current lack of backbone and the extreme flexibility of a majority of senior civil servants. It is a tragedy that we have come down as far as this.

I can speak for the situation in the IPS, as I once belonged to this elite group. It is not my case that my contemporaries in the profession were squeaky clean. There were black sheep even then; some got caught, and an equal number escaped scrutiny. But I can say with some confidence that the number of dishonest officers was far less, and the quantum of corruption which they indulged in was smaller.

I hasten to add that I am not justifying any lack of integrity, however trivial it might be. All that I want to say is that the canker was confined to a negligible few, and there was a fear of the law as well as an irretrievable loss of reputation. Neither is true of the current situation.

How did this abominable situation come about? First is the general permissiveness in the polity and society which places a premium on acquisition of assets disproportionate to one's income. The lure of the five star culture and the opulent style of living that goes with it are the villains. It is easy to say that a senior government official should spurn it and set a model for the younger officers.

Two prominent factors that drive many an officer to resort to earning illegal income. The first is the desire to build a palatial house, and the second is to give the best of education to one's children, at home (after paying an astronomical capitation fee). Eliminate these two - if you would- from reckoning, you would most of the time find no reason why an officer would indulge in misconduct. I am providing only for the marginally dishonest, and not for the rapacious and mentally sick officers who become obsessed with money.

The second major driver of corruption is the unethical demand for money from a supervisory officer or an influential politician who ranks high in the hierarchy of administration and who has the authority to dole out favours in the form of an important posting or a promotion. Deputation abroad for training is also an occasional crumb thrown at a pliable officer in order to compromise him.

While arranging transfer of illegal remittance to a politician, it is not infrequent that the officer facilitating it helps himself to a share. This is particularly glaring while a massive recruitment to the police force takes place. The enhanced levels of corruption in the polity is often cited in justification of an officer turning corrupt. This is abominable and culpable to the core.

How can one stem the rot? To expect a transformation in the polity is asking for the moon. I don't see prospects of such enlightenment for many decades to come. Training in ethics — attempted at the National Police Academy, Hyderabad where IPS officers are trained — has been at best cosmetic and has yielded only marginal impact on the mind of probationers, and evaporates the moment the latter lands in the field for occupying positions of responsibility. Harsh realities in practical policing offers huge temptations and persuade many idealistic officers to abandon their values and jump into the bandwagon. This description may sound too simplistic, but it describes the situation reasonably accurately.

We are therefore left with two options. One is the creation of a band of supervisory officers at the level of DGP who will act as a disinfectant through exemplary personal conduct. Such numbers are not inconsiderable, and therefore are a dependable source who can be exploited to spread the message that honesty is still the best policy.

The outcome of such indoctrination into practising honesty will be immeasurable, but has to be sustained for a long time.  The second avenue is deterrent punishment to officers wanting in integrity. The standard of proof required here will have to be much lower than in judicial prosecutions if there has to be a fear of penalty.

Departmental enquiries where the burden shifts almost wholly to the delinquent officer are to be preferred to criminal prosecution under the Prevention of Corruption Act. Many officers under a cloud prefer to be dealt with through a charge sheet in a court of law rather than in departmental proceedings, because the former procedure presents an opportunity for easy reprieve.

In the final analysis, it is the sternness shown by the Union Home Ministry (the Cadre Authority for IPS) and a State Government to which an IPS officer is allotted at the end of training that could make a difference. If misbehaving IPS officers come to believe over time that they can get round either of the two authorities with the help of political contacts, there is no salvation for the IPS.

In my view an IPS officer is under greater obligation, than any officer belonging to other superior services in government, to adhere to common ethics and the code of conduct prescribed for All India Services. If he or she breaches either, we can expect a further erosion in public confidence in the whole of the IPS.

(The writer is a former CBI Director)

Updated Date: May 25, 2015 15:21 PM

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