AN important case is being heard at the Supreme Court these days, whose outcome could have a far-reaching impact on a crucial aspect of governance in the country. During proceedings involving a set of petitions against alleged political interference in transfers and postings in the Punjab Police, the three-judge bench observed that the police cannot be made an instrument for the promotion of elite vested interests. The court on Wednesday ordered the federal and provincial governments to furnish the record of postings and transfers in police departments over the past eight years. According to the petitions being heard, nine Lahore CCPOs and eight IGPs were changed between June 7, 2018, and Aug 29, 2022, in Punjab. Based on this, the average tenure of the CCPOs and IGPs in the province works out to an average of 4.5 and 6.2 months, respectively. The Police Order 2002 stipulates three years as the term of office for each.
Transfers and postings are the sword of Damocles with which governments control the police. Any cop perceived as ‘uncooperative’, even if the authorities’ demand is brazenly unlawful, can find themselves shipped out from their post or — in the case of an IGP — their services surrendered to the federal government. To cite a recent example from Punjab, 55 SPs and DSPs were transferred in one fell swoop by the PTI government for reportedly taking action against its party leaders and activists during Hamza Shehbaz’s short-lived, tenure as chief minister. Other provinces are similarly averse to cops who do not do their bidding. The Sindh Police is notoriously politicised, with some senior cops even being appointed on the say-so of powerful politicians’ cronies. Then there was the long-running tussle played out through the superior courts between the independent-minded A.D. Khowaja, then IG Sindh, and the PPP government. The police are custodians of the law, not a handmaiden of the elite, and one hopes the Supreme Court’s verdict in this case will force a change of approach.
Published in Dawn, November 25th, 2022