In a surprise move that sparked a controversy, the Maharashtra government on Wednesday appointed senior IPS officer Ahmed Javed as Mumbai’s police commissioner, replacing Rakesh Maria under whose watch the sensational Sheena Bora murder case was being investigated.
Maria was elevated as director general of police (DGP) in the home guards division, taking over from Javed with immediate effect, though his promotion was expected only around the end of the month.
The Devendra Fadnavis government said the switch was hastened so the new city police chief would have enough time to settle down ahead of security preparations for the packed festival season that kicks off in a week with Ganesh Chaturthi and goes on till Diwali.
The state home department dismissed suggestions that the move was connected to the high-profile Sheena Bora murder investigation in which the victim’s mother, former media tycoon Indrani Mukerjea, is a key accused.
However, sources told HT chief minister Fadnavis, who authorised the change before leaving for Japan on Tuesday morning, was upset with the way the probe was being handled.
“It would have been inappropriate to transfer him on September 30, in the middle of the festive season as Ganapati festival, a very important event in Maharashtra would be on at that time,” said additional chief secretary (home) KP Bakshi. “Therefore, we decided to advance the promotion of Maria.”
The 58-year-old officer, who made his mark as a traffic cop, leapt into the limelight when he led a team to crack the 1993 Mumbai blasts case within 24 hours, inspiring noted director Anurag Kashyap to create the groundbreaking film, Black Friday.
He also managed the 26/11 attacks investigation where he interrogated the sole surviving Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist, Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab.
But Maria courted controversy recently when it was revealed that he met former cricket administrator Lalit Modi in London last year where he had gone to attend an Interpol meeting. Modi is being investigated by Indian agencies over alleged corruption in the big-ticket Indian Premier League (IPL) tournament.
The top cop had taken a keen interest in the Sheena Bora murder probe and was leading the questioning of key people linked to the case, including Indrani, her husband and former Star India CEO Peter Mukerjea as well as her ex-husband, Sanjeev Khanna.
Some officials in the state administration expressed surprise at the timing of the move as police were about to file a charge sheet in the case within a few weeks. TV channels quoted sources suggesting Maria may have been moved out because of his close ties with Peter Mukerjea.
Javed, who took charge as Mumbai’s police chief, lost the race to Maria in 2013 for the prestigious post that sources say is often lobbied for by officers and even politicians who want their picks to get the job.
Known for his strict attitude towards criminals, the 59-year-old worked as joint commissioner of Mumbai Police (law and order) and was responsible for closely monitoring and handling of witnesses in the Best Bakery case from the 2002 Gujarat riots after the Supreme Court moved the trial out of the state.
“I have had a word with the joint commissioner of police (law and order) and the team investigating the Sheena Bora murder will continue to probe. They will not be transferred,” he told the media after moving into his new office. “The accused are in judicial custody and it is a clear indication that the questioning in the case is over. As far as the collection of evidence is concerned, it will be done appropriately.”
The government said the Mumbai Police commissioner’s post was upgraded to the director general rank held by Javed.