According to recent press reports, the Government of Punjab is contemplating amendments in the Police Order 2002. Here, it is important to review the legal position and the desirability of instituting amendments by a provincial government. The Police Order 2002 was promulgated on August 14, 2002. In order to give it continuity and a fair chance to be implemented and tested on ground, without any hasty and untimely changes, it was placed in Schedule Six of the Constitution under the Seventeenth Amendment so that it could not be amended for a period of six years without the prior consent of the president of Pakistan.
Unfortunately, due to political expediency, the then president amended the Police Order 2002 through an ordinance in 2004 that effectively negated most of the essential prerequisites of modern, accountable and politically neutral policing. As parliament could not amend the Police Order without prior sanction of the president, the ordinance had to be re-promulgated every four months. The last time the Amendment Ordinance was re-promulgated was in November, 2009. On expiry of this Amendment Ordinance, the Police Order 2002 stood restored in its original form. However, effective January 1, 2010, parliament could amend the Police Order without any prior sanction of the president.
Coming to the amending powers of the provinces, they can amend the Police Order 2002 under Article 142 of the Constitution. Article 184 of the Police Order 2002 also empowers the provinces to amend the Police Order with the prior approval of the prime minister, to the extent of meeting their specific requirements and circumstances. There is an erroneous impression deliberately being disseminated by certain quarters that the Police Order 2002 is no more in the field and each province is free to enact its own police act. However, as pointed out earlier, the only changes that have occurred are that parliament can now amend the Police Order 2002 without the prior sanction of the president and provincial assemblies can make amendments to meet any local and special requirements with the approval of the prime minister. No provincial government can change the substantive provisions of the Police Order 2002 as enshrined in Article 143 of the Constitution.
The amendments that are being contemplated by the Punjab government are similar to the amendments made in 2004, which intended to undermine the operational autonomy of the police. The idea is to make the police subordinate to the chief secretary and the home department and reduce its status to that of an attached department of the provincial government. The ascendancy of the bureaucracy over the professional police force will not only make the inspector-general ineffective but will also constrain the governance space available to the chief minister who, at the moment, provides personal supervision and policy guidance to the police.
The proposed amendments define the provincial police officer (PPO)/inspector-general of police (IGP) as the “ex-officio secretary” who shall work subject to the policy, oversight and guidance given by the chief minister through the chief secretary and the home department. The retention of the district nazim, writing of the district police officer’s (DPO) annual confidential report (ACR) and insertion of Article 186A are intended to enable the provincial government to amend the schedule of the Police Order 2002 by a simple gazette notification and to place the DPO under the deputy commissioner after the promulgation of the proposed Local Government Act 2012.
In the previous amendments that were brought forward through lobbying by the elite bureaucratic group, politicisation and merger of the Public Safety Commissions and the Police Complaints Authority gave tremendous powers to this body, thus undermining the operational and administrative autonomy of the PPO/IGP. Writing of the DPO’s ACR by the district nazim diluted the authority of the PPO over one of his key officers. Posting of a non-police officer as the secretary of the provincial and district public safety and complaints commission affected the neutrality of this body, thus constraining the authority of the PPO.
The proposed amendments by the Punjab government introduce new definitions of the terms ‘direct’, ‘responsible’, ‘exigency of service’ and ‘fact finding inquiry’, which have far-reaching implications for the police. The amendments abolish a number of federal institutions, like the National Public Safety Commission, the National Police Management Board and the National Police Bureau, etc. The amendments repeal several complete chapters of the Police Order 2002. Such proposed amendments are illegal and unconstitutional.
At this critical juncture when the country is facing gigantic economic, political, legal and security-related problems that also pose an existential threat, the idea of amending the Police Order Articles by the Punjab government, seems to be a novelty hitherto unheard and unknown of. In an election year, the Punjab government should avoid adding to controversies, which have already paralysed the body politic of Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 20th, 2012.