Senkumar case: SC sets precedent for state governments on transfers of IPS officers

New Delhi:  Apex Court’s landmark ruling in Kerala’s top cop TP Senkumar’s case sets a strong legal precedent and clears the blur guide lines to transfer IPS officers.

Supreme Courts ruled that IPS officers cannot be thrown out from top posts only on the basis of state government’s prima facie satisfaction that such a change is required in public interest.

The top court said the government should have strong compelling reasons and materials for transfer or removal of top IPS officers.

State government had argued that it only needs a prima facie satisfaction to transfer the state police chief. The government was prima facie satisfied that Senkumar’s conduct following the Puttingal tragedy and Jisha murder case – in not taking action against erring police officials – translated into serious public dissatisfaction on the efficiency and role of police.

This was more than enough to enable the government to conclude that Senkumar deserved to be transferred out, government’s counsel had argued. Causing serious dissatisfaction in the general public about efficiency of police is one of the six grounds stated in section 97 of Kerala Police Act, 2011 that enables the government to transfer a senior IPS officer before completing a minimum tenure of two years in a post. Such assurance of tenure is applicable in the case of commissioners or superintendents, inspector general, and state police chief, as per the Act.
Laying down the law as to what constitutes prima facie satisfaction of the government, the Supreme Court said in the judgment, “The opinion of serious dissatisfaction must be based on verifiable material and not a perception that the Chief Minister or other senior functionary might have or the ‘public expectation’ (as learned counsel for the State put it) that the Chief Minister might imagine. Quite often public opinion can be misleading or motivated.

It is true that where an assessment of this nature is required to be made, there would be an element of subjectivity, but that subjective view must have some basis – not a mere perception.”
The Act does not permit the government to take any decision on the basis of what it believes to be public dissatisfaction, the court said. Otherwise, the state government can misuse the provision and justify an adverse action on the ground of prima facie satisfaction outside the ambit of judicial review, the court noted.
“We are therefore clearly of opinion that the removal or displacement of any senior level officer from a tenure appointment must be for compelling reasons and must be justified by the concerned authority, if called upon to do so, on material that can be objectively tested.

This is what the rule of law expects and this is what Section 97 of the Act expects – the law must be faithfully implemented in a purposive manner,” the apex court said in the judgment.

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