Patil's power grab

Maharashtra's home minister must not be allowed to widen his powers to influence the police force

When Maharashtra Home Minister R.R. Patil can spare time from enforcing moral policing in his realm, he evidently makes sure that his department is not found wanting in arrogating to itself greater authority in the minutiae of transfers and promotions in the state police force. A year after he vested the home department with enhanced power to transfer police personnel, it has now been allowed a say in the promotion of personnel from the rank of sub-inspectors. The move is reported to have exasperated Maharashtra's top cops and the state's director-general of police, Sanjeev Dayal, has accordingly met with the home department — with, expectedly, no relief. Julio Ribeiro, former police commissioner of Mumbai and a tireless advocate of hastening police reforms, has urged the chief secretary to take up the matter with Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan.

It is far from clear to what lengths the chief minister will go in talking best practices to his home minister. Chavan, after all, came to the Mantralaya in Mumbai to turn a clean page in the state's administration in the aftermath of the Adarsh scandal. But in the territorial demarcation of ministerial writ in the Congress-NCP coalition, the limited efforts to reform the inordinately extractive politics of Maharashtra appear to have passed police matters by. As the progressive incursions of the home department in transfers and promotions of police personnel show, straightening the lines of command and accountability in the administration will be a long haul, if it begins at all. This is also evident from the timing of Patil's latest attempt to widen his powers to influence the police force. It comes amidst increased focus — in popular debate as well as in the courts — on the lack of follow-up on various committees' recommendations on police reforms.

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