Police chief’s appointment under controversy again: How politicians’ petty interests are eroding nation’s law enforcement agency

Meritocracy, seniority and organizational norms have been completely ignored by politicians in power in the promotion and appointment of Nepal Police high officials.

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Kathmandu: Just a month ago, on March 31, Inspector General of Police (IGP) Shailesh Thapa Kshetri and Additional Inspector General (AIG) Bishwo Raj Pokharel conferred the insignia of AIG on Dhiraj Pratap Singh. 

In less than a month, the government, on Sunday, decided to promote Singh to the position of IG of Nepal Police as the 29th chief of Nepal Police.

Like always, the decision has sparked criticism as he is promoted to the position while two other officials senior to him in the force–AIG Bishwo Raj Pokharel and AIG Sahakul Bahadur Thapa–were in the line of seniority for the top post of Nepal Police.

Home Ministry had recommended four names including Bishwo Raj Pokharel, Sahakul Bahadur Thapa, Dhiraj Pratap Singh and Rabindra Dhanuk for the promotion to the IG of Police. Among them, Pokharel was the first one promoted to the position of AIG, followed by Thapa, Singh and Dhanuk. Pokharel was promoted to AIG on December 11, 2020, Thapa on June 29, 2021, and Singh and Dhanuk on March 31, 2021.

But seniority was given a damn in the appointment of AIG, apparently meritocracy as well, raising the fresh debate again about how officials are promoted within Nepal Police at the whims and fancies of politicians in power, without giving a hoot for norms and the reputation of the police institution.

Compromised institution

The reputation of Nepal Police, as an institution, has constantly eroded over the last few decades. Successive governments have tried to impose complete control over the police for the benefit of a few leaders. 

This manifests in different forms starting from recruitment to posting, transfers and promotion and creating additional positions to adjust the personnel who are close to the political leaders. In reality, no political party in power has relinquished their grip on the police.

Out of 14 ranks of Nepal Police–Inspector General of Police, Additional Inspector General of Police, Deputy Inspector General of Police, Senior Superintendent of Police, Superintendent of Police, Deputy Superintendent of Police, Police Inspector, Senior Sub Inspector of Police, Sub Inspector of Police, Assistant Sub Inspector of Police, Senior Head Constable, Head Constable, Assistant Head Constable and Constable–politicians in power have often tried to promote and transfer senior-level officials according to their wishes and interests.  Bribes and exchange of favors are also suspected in the process though the cases remain unreported owing to a lack of hard evidence.

Operational independence is critical to ensuring that the police force is efficient and non-partisan. But frequent political interventions on the promotion and transfer of police officers have created a situation where the institution itself is suffering from erosion and ethical questions, said a former police officer requesting not to be named. 

“The government has failed to realize that the police is the most important law enforcing agency of the country. Instead, successive governments have treated it as a company to recruit their cadres and fulfill their interests. One needs to follow the regulations and laws of any institution,” said Rajendra Bhandari, former additional inspector general of Nepal Police. “The government has dragged the security force into the quagmire of partisan politics.”

Carte blanche repeats

Successive governments have failed to ensure transparency and set a standard benchmark for the appointment and promotion of high officials in Nepal Police.

For instance, KP Oli led-government had promoted then DIG Bishwa Raj Pokharel, now AIG who was also the senior-most officer to become IG, to IG in December 2020. According to reports, the move was taken under the pressure of then Deputy Prime Minister Ishwar Pokharel.

Bishwa Pokharel, number one ranked AIG as per the regulation of Nepal Police, was expected to take charge of the security forces as the chief. But on Sunday, the government, against the recommendation of the Home Ministry, appointed Singh as the new chief of the security forces. 

The Police Regulations clearly states that the government shall promote a candidate from the post of additional inspector general (AIG) to the Inspector General on the basis of seniority, efficiency, effectiveness, ability to take responsibility, and ability to provide leadership. However, against the recommendation of the Ministry of Home Affairs, a meeting of the Council of Ministers, on Sunday, appointed Dhiraj Pratap Singh.

Singh is third in rank on the basis of seniority in AIG, behind Bishwo Raj Pokharel and Rabindra Dhanuk. The current police chief–Sailesh Chhetri–retired on Sunday after completing 30 years of service in the security force.

Karki’s promotion was also controversial

The government took a decision to promote Singh to the position of IGP at a time when a case against his promotion to AIG is subjudice at the Supreme Court. 

A month ago, Singh and Rabindra Dhanuk were promoted to the position of AIG. Following the cabinet decision, other DIGs–Ishwar Babu Karki, Ghanshyam Aryal and Prakash Jung  Karki–moved the Supreme Court against the decision of the government. 

They filed a case against Singh and Dhanuk, arguing that the government made promotions against the regulation to promote senior officials. The case is still subjudice at the Supreme Court. The hearing of the case is slated for Monday. But the government rushed with the decision as the incumbent IGP is retiring the same day. 

Pokharel and Thapa moving the court

Arguing that a junior in the ranking was promoted, AIGs–Pokharel and Thapa–are preparing to file a case at the Apex court. According to sources at the Nepal Police, both Pokharel and Thapa are moving the court after the recent controversial development. “Singh is a junior in rankings after Pokharel was promoted to DIG. Even the high-ranking officials are surprised and dissatisfied with the government’s decision. The police force has yet again been dragged into controversy by the government,” said a high-ranking police official. Both Pokharel and Thapa are moving the court for justice. 

Ripples withing ruling alliance

Meanwhile, the government’s decision to pick Singh as IGP bypassing the seniority rule has been criticized by the leaders of the ruling Nepali Congress. Nepali Congress leader Shekhar Koirala said that the government made a mockery of rule of law by appointing the new police chief against the regulations. 

“The decision has dragged the Nepal Police into controversy yet again,” Koirala tweeted.  Many other leaders inside the party have objected to the government’s decision to meddle in the promotion process within Nepal Police, a Congress insider said.

Nepali Congress leader Guru Raj Ghimire has asked the government to revoke the decision to appoint Dhiraj Pratap Singh to IG

. “Government promoting Singh to IGP neglecting the seniority, serving tenure, and hierarchy, defying and violating the provisions mentioned in Rule 41 of the Police Regulation has made a mockery of the system and procedures. This has also stained the discipline and reputation of the police organization. Revoke this decision soon,” he wrote on Twitter. 

Reportedly, other alliance leaders were also not happy with the decision to promote Singh to the police’s top position. None of the top leaders has, however, expressed their dissatisfaction openly. 

‘Respect seniority:’ Supreme Court precedent 

In February 2017, the government led by Sher Bahadur Deuba made the decision to appoint Jaya Bahadur Chand as the chief of Nepal Police. DIG Nawaraj Silwal had moved the Supreme Court against the government’s decision. 

The Supreme Court in March revoked the government’s decision to appoint Jaya Bahadur Chand the Nepal Police chief saying that it was arbitrary, flawed and unjust. The full bench of justice, comprising of Chief Justice Sushila Karki and Justices Hari Krishna Karki, Ishwar Prasad Khatiwada, Ananda Mohan Bhattarai and Anil Kumar Sinha, issued a final verdict against Chand’s appointment.

The Court had categorically said in its verdict of March 12, 2017 that the seniority should be given high priority while appointing officials in top posts of security forces for proper management of doctrine of hierarchy and chain of command. If seniority is undermined, without any justified reason, arbitrariness will become a norm and it could lead to unexpected and unwanted impacts on human resource management within the security agencies.