Reality check: AGMUT cadre officers far more qualified to be Delhi Police Commissioner than Rakesh Asthana

AGMUT cadre IPS officers serve at senior supervisory positions in Delhi Police over decades, giving them insights into dealing with unique policing challenges of the densely-populated capital city

Reality check: AGMUT cadre officers far more qualified to be Delhi Police Commissioner than Rakesh Asthana

Rahul Gul

The hearing in Delhi High Court on Monday with respect to a plea challenging the contentious appointment of controversial Gujarat cadre IPS officer Rakesh Asthana as Commissioner of Police, Delhi saw high-octane skirmishes between lawyers representing the petitioner and the respondents, besides the intervenor, Prashant Bhushan.

Most of the arguments went along expected lines, with the petitioner’s counsel and the intervenor Prashant Bhushan emphasising the core issue as Asthana’s appointment being violative of the Supreme Court’s judgment in the landmark Prakash Singh police reforms case in letter and spirit.

The main thrust of submissions made by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta contested the applicability of the same in the case of the Union Territory of Delhi, even as he cast aspersions on the petitioner and intervenor, saying they were running a “PIL industry”.

Meanwhile, Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, who made a surprise appearance to represent Asthana, raising eyebrows considering his high-flying stature, contended that Prashant Bhushan was targeting his client due to a “personal vendetta”.

While it is for the courts to interpret and give a ruling on the technicalities of the Prakash Singh case and other rules allegedly violated by the Centre, certain justifications cited by it for favourably considering Asthana’s candidature, as mentioned in its 288 page affidavit submitted in Delhi HC and highlighted by Mehta in Monday’s hearing, simply don’t cut ice and are in fact downright jarring.

The relevant portions of the affidavit are reproduced below:

“Delhi being the capital of the country has been witnessing diverse and extremely challenging situations of public order/law and order situation/policing issues which not only had national security implications but also international/cross border implications. As such, a compelling need was felt by the Centre to appoint a person as a head of the police force of Delhi, who had diverse and vast experience of heading a large police force in a large state having diverse political as well as public order problem/experience of working and supervising Central Investigating Agency(s) as well as para-military forces," it said.

"A search was done in AGMUT (Arunachal, Goa, Mizoram and Union Territories) cadre, which is the IPS cadre for GNCT (Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi). However, since AGMUT cadre being a cadre comprising of Union Territory and small north-eastern states, it was felt that requisite experience of working and supervising the central investigating agency/para-military force and police force of a large State having diverse political and law and order problem was lacking in the present pool of available officers in AGMUT," the Centre said.

"Hence in public interest, a decision was made by the Central Government to have an officer who had experience in all the above fields to supervise Delhi Police force and to provide effective policing on the recent law and order situation which arose in the National Capital Territory of Delhi," it said.

Rohatgi, on his part, contended: “Delhi doesn't have a full-fledged cadre. It has a cadre with other Union Territories. Officer appointed needs to deal with peculiarities of Delhi. That is why there was a need for inter-cadre transfer.”

This whole line of reasoning is fallacious, for the following reasons:

1. While Rakesh Asthana served as Commissioner of Police in Surat and Vadodra when he held the rank of DIG/IG, he was never appointed as Director General of Police in Gujarat, his home cadre, or elsewhere. As such, he does not have “diverse and vast experience of heading a large police force in a large state having diverse political as well as public order problem”. As per Census 2011, Surat had a population of 61.8 lakhs while Vadodra’s population is 21.8 lakhs. Delhi’s population, on the other hand, is almost 2 crore.

2. Asthana has served in the CBI, at the rank of a Superintendent of Police and later as Special Director. The CBI is primarily an investigative agency which deals with corruption, economic offenses and cases involving violence referred to it by the government or the courts. It is not involved in the nitty-gritty of law and order or routine investigations carried out at police station levels. Further, he did not get the opportunity of serving as CBI chief after the Chief Justice of India opined that his candidature was violative of the Prakash Singh judgment.

3. After his tenure was cut short in the CBI in 2018 due to an ungainly feud with the then Director, Alok Verma, Asthana was posted as Director, Bureau of Civil Aviation and Security (BCAS) in January, 2019. The mandate of BCAS is mainly limited to planning and coordinating of aviation security matters.

4. Asthana was appointed as DG, BSF in August, 2020. The BSF is, of course, a para-military force with the mandate to guard certain portions of the country’s border. It is not a ‘police force’ in that sense. Heading a para-military force is not the same thing as handling a large civilian police force and it is rather hard to see the connection in the context of Asthana’s appointment as Delhi Police chief.

5. AGMUT cadre of IAS and IPS is the often the preferred choice of those who secure a high rank in the Civil Services Examination (CSE) conducted by the UPSC due to the unique opportunity it offers in terms of exposure to various cultures and the degree of administrative challenges faced by the officers.

Ira Singhal, who topped the CSE in 2015 and chose the AGMUT cadre has said, “For me, it was my first choice and I love it. It is the most varied cadre and the only truly All India cadre. I get to work in almost all regions of India and it offers the highest opportunity for exploring our nation. I like the idea of getting to live everywhere and learning from all sorts of cultures and people and making a difference in a wide variety of regions.”

“If you like to travel/live in at different places then it might be the best cadre choice. You get an opportunity to live in Goa, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep Islands, North East States Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram, Puducherry, Chandigarh, Jammu & Kashmir, Daman and Diu, Dadra and Nagar Haveli apart from Delhi. AGMUT cadre (Delhi posting) may also facilitate better interaction with central ministries and departments,” Ram Prakash (IAS 2018 batch; Rajasthan cadre) has pointed out.

6. Current and former AGMUT cadre IPS officers serving in senior positions in Delhi Police have had tenures as DGP of various UTs. This includes Arunachal Pradesh (AP), which, with an area of 83,743 square kilometres, is larger than many states. For example, recently-deceased 1974 batch IPS officer YS Dadwal, who served as Commissioner of Police, Delhi from 2007 to 2010, before being posted as DG, SSB, was DGP, AP from 1999 to 2001. Vimla Mehra (1978 batch), who too served as DGP, AP became the first woman to be appointed as a Special CP in Delhi Police in 2013, becoming number two in the hierarchy at the time.

7. During their service careers spanning over 30 years, AGMUT cadre IPS officers serve at various senior supervisory positions in Delhi Police, one of the largest metropolitan police forces in the world with a strength of almost 1 lakh personnel. Delhi, spread over an area of 1,484 sq km, is one of the most densely populated cities in the country and worldwide, being home to almost 2 crore people, besides being a hub for lakhs residing in NCR towns and NCT region. It has as many as 184 police stations. It is thus AGMUT cadre IPS officers who understand the “peculiarities of Delhi”, not someone who has not served a single day in Delhi Police.

8. AGMUT cadre IPS officers serve for some periods of time in far-off and remote places such as Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep and Mizoram etc, called ‘hard postings’ in bureaucratic parlance. They are often constrained to leave their families behind due to lack of proper educational facilities etc at such places. To deny them an opportunity to serve as Commissioner of Police in Delhi at the pinnacle of their career, with the Centre now effectively terming them as ‘incompetent’ and ‘ineligible’ for the same, will send a chilling message down the line and demoralise the entire cadre.

9. The justification of Asthana’s over-arching ‘competence’ by the Centre to serve as Delhi Police chief by citing his tenures in CBI and BSF sets a benchmark and precedent which may well make most AGMUT cadre IPS officers ineligible from being appointed to the top post in the future as very few of them would have had the ‘benefit’ of such ‘experience’.

10. Last but certainly not the least, if Rakesh Asthana’s appointment if upheld for these reasons, the Centre may very well make it a standard practice to appoint ‘favoured’ and pliant officers from other cadres to the post to serve its political agenda. Delhi Police may thus end up headed by officers with no knowledge, experience and insight into the unique issues facing any city including Delhi. Officers in any given cadre including AGMUT cadre get to know each other over decades working together and develop a certain bonhomie and personal rapport with each other. Reporting to someone parachuted from another cadre whom they don’t know at all may lead to resentment and indifference, which may affect the smooth and effective functioning of the entire force, to the detriment of its citizens.

It would not be out of place to add here, however, that during Monday’s hearing, SG Tushar Mehta kept bringing up the issue that the judicial challenge to Rakesh Asthana’s appointment should have been made by one of more AGMUT cadre IPS officers affected by the move.

Prakash Singh, former IPS officer and DGP, UP, who was singularly responsible for the SC’s police reforms judgment, had remarked in a conversation with National Herald shortly after Asthana was appointed as CP, Delhi in end-July: “I am hoping that one of the aggrieved AGMUT cadre officers, whose career has been impacted by Asthana’s appointment, would have the courage to move the SC for a clarification”.

Unfortunately, this did not happen, with one likely reason being the fear of administrative retribution under the current regime weighing down on not only serving officers across all services but also those who have superannuated.

(The writer works as Senior Editor with National Herald. Views are personal)

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Published: 28 Sep 2021, 12:42 PM