Uttar Pradesh has been rocked by a recruitment scandal involving the police force. Twenty-five Indian Police Service officers of the rank of Inspector General, Deputy Inspector General and Senior Superintendent of Police have been suspended. Departmental action has been ordered against 58 police officers who were members of the recruitment boards. In addition to this, 17,868 police and Provincial Armed Constabulary recruits have been sacked. This is the first time such stern action in a recruitment scam has been taken by any state government in the country.
During the last few years, recruitments have become a major source of corruption in the police force. The modus operandi was somewhat like this: a list would be sent from the state capital to the recruitment centres. The applicants were recommended on the basis of caste, region or other considerations. Of course, all of this came at a price. If an applicant belonged to the same caste of the politician recommending him, he would get a concession. If he belonged to a different caste, the price tag would be considerably higher. And, if the applicant had no clout, the fee would be stiff.
What happened after this list reached the different recruitment centres depended on the calibre of the officer-in-charge. If he had character, he would not carry out the directions from his political masters and conduct the recruitments according to the rules. For this, however, he would pay a price after the recruitment process was over. The upright officer would be humiliated and shunted out. Members of the selection board also made money and helped undermine the process. On their part, the politicians always tried to ensure that pliable officers headed the recruitment boards. The Home Department, which selected the officers for the recruitment boards, was hand-in-glove with the politicians in this game.
The applicants had to pay anything between Rs 1 lakh to Rs 4 lakh for a place in the police force. Needless to say, those coming from poorer sections were badly hit. Some even had to take a loan or mortgage their land to bribe the politicians and the officials. Assuming that 7,000 candidates was recruited during a particular drive of the Uttar Pradesh police force and even on a very conservative estimate, Rs 1 lakh per applicant was taken as bribe, the total amount changing hands would be Rs 70 crore. According to a latest estimate, however, the loot was to the tune of Rs 500 crore. All this was going on for the last couple of years.
Chief Minister Mayawati has punished the erring police officers. However, this is not enough; other components of the nexus also need to exposed and held accountable for the rot. Actually, politicians were at the root of the recruitment scam: they collected the money and sent lists to the various DIGs in charge of the selection process. The bureaucrats played a supporting role. They amended rules for selection, lowered qualifying standards, downgraded interview yardsticks and dispensed with police verification. But all this was done at the behest of the politicians. The guilty bureaucrats and the politicians must also be prosecuted. The political masters, bureaucrats and police officers have poisoned the very roots of the police force.
A constable who paid a huge amount for the job will always want to recoup the investment by extorting money from the people. Having tasted blood, taking gratification will become second nature for him. He will blame the system and the system will blame him. The UP Chief Minister will have to now ensure that the selection of constables in the future is done through a transparent process and that only the suitable candidates get selected without having to pay any money.
This brings us to the important issue of police reforms. Is it not time to insulate the police from extraneous influences and give it functional autonomy? If this is done, holding the police accountable for its errors of omission and commission will have greater legitimacy and moral justification. Today, they are more often than not punished for sins that are inspired and abetted by others.
Prakash Singh is former Director General of Border Security Force, Director General of Police, UP and Assam.