Putting an end to a year-long battle between the CPI (M)-led LDF Kerala government and the stateâ€™s former Director General of Police (DGP) TP Senkumar over the latter's removal, the Supreme Court on Monday, directed the state government to reinstate the senior police officer.
The court observed that the removal of a senior level officer from a tenure appointment must be for "compelling reasons" and said that TP Senkumar was removed out of his post "without reasonable cause."
TP Senkumar assumed office on May 22, 2015 and his tenure should have continued till May 21, 2017 or even thereafter till his retirement in June 2017, as per the Kerala Police Act. However, his tenure was cut short following his removal from the post in May 2016 by the newly elected LDF government.
The Pinarayi government in Kerala had ousted him alleging dereliction of duty with regard to the investigation of two high profile cases - Puttingal temple fireworks tragedy on April 9 and the rape and murder of Dalit student Jisha on April 28.
Observing that Senkumar's removal was unfair and arbitrary, the bench comprising of Justice Madan B Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta has now directed the state government to reinstate the officer.
In the 56-page judgement the court observed that the appellant (TP Senkumar) was an "outstanding officer" and that his appointment as the top officer was "based on his meritorious record and service."
On the state government's claim that the officer was removed from his post before his tenure ended for "dissatisfaction" of duty, the court observed:
"The question for our consideration is whether the appellant's displacement from the post of State Police Chief in Kerala before the expiry of his tenure of 2 years was justified in law. In our opinion, the answer is negative. The removal or displacement or transfer out of an officer from a sensitive tenure post requires consideration and good reasons that can be tested so that the officer is not dealt with as a pawn in a game. Unfortunately, the somewhat exacting standards are absent in the present case and the appellant was displaced from the post of state police chief summarily and without reasonable cause. "
Pressure and the foundation of democracy
The judgment also talks about a research paper "Political and Administrative Manipulation of the Police" published in 1979 by the Bureau of Police Research and Development.
There is inherent danger of making the police a tool for subverting the process of law, promoting the growth of authoritarianism and shaking the very foundations of democracy, the judgment notes.
The judgement also talks about two kinds of pressures - vertical pressure from the administration and lateral pressure from politicians.
"With these two pressures, the independent functioning of the police can and sometimes does get compromised at the hands of the very important persons and those claiming proximity to very imp persons," the judgement reads.
Countering state government's claims
In its judgement, the court talks about the two cases in question - the Puttingal tragedy and Jisha murder case.
The trouble first started when the Puttingal temple tragedy struck, the court observes.
"It appears that his tenure did not involve any controversy until the night of April 9 2016, on the day of Puttingal temple tragedy... where more than 100 people died and more than 400 people sustained injuries."
While a note submitted by the Additional Chief Secretary (Home) to the government on April 13 mentions lapses from three police officers - Commissioner of Kollam, Assistant Commissioner of Kollam and a Circle Inspector - the note does not hold Senkumar responsible for failing to prevent the tragedy.
Around the same time, the Kerala High Court had registered a suo motu case on the tragedy and the content of the affidavit submitted by the Chief Secretary, was more or less the same.
The second note was on the Jisha case. In this note, the court observed, the only mention against DGP was that he remained silent on why no action was taken against certain officers who had delayed the recording of the FIR in the Jisha case or the delay in forwarding the FIR to the concerned magistrate. The note indicated poor leadership exhibited on the part of Senkumar.
A day after receiving these two notes, that Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan replaced Senkumar as the DGP.
Taking a dig at the state governmentâ€™s claims that Senkumar's appointment was irregular, the court said, "We are also a little disturbed with the view expressed in the detailed counter affidavit and elsewhere that the appointment of the appellant was irregular if not illegal. If that is so and the state government of Kerala is bent upon making irregular or illegal appointments to sensitive posts, then no one can help the god's own country," reads the judgement.