The Maharashtra government on Wednesday morning promoted top cop Rakesh Maria out of the Mumbai police commissioner’s post but in a dramatic turnaround announced in the evening he would continue to supervise the Sheena Bora murder probe amid speculation that the transfer was linked to the high-profile case.
The government clarified that Maria would continue to head the investigation until a charge sheet was filed after its sudden decision to pluck him out of the key post created a flutter in the media as he was personally leading the interrogation in the multi-layered case that has gripped the nation.
Maria swapped places with 59-year-old Ahmed Javed as director general of police (DGP) in the home guards division with immediate effect, though his promotion was expected only around the end of the month.
CM Fadnavis unhappy?
The state home department dismissed suggestions that the decision was connected to the Sheena Bora case, but government sources told Hindustan Times chief minister Devendra Fadnavis was unhappy with the amount of interest Maria was taking in the investigation and last week said police should attend to other probes as well.
The government said the switch was hastened so Javed, 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 about a week with Ganesh Chaturthi and goes on till Diwali.
"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."
A senior official said the chief minister was also unsatisfied with Maria’s clarification over his meeting last year with former cricket administrator Lalit Modi, who is being investigated by Indian agencies over alleged corruption in the big-ticket Indian Premier League (IPL) tournament.
“Fadnavis had asked Maria to submit documentary evidence to corroborate his claim that he had informed the then home minister, late RR Patil, about the meeting,” the official said. “Maria said the meeting was important from a security standpoint as Modi was to share vital information related to the underworld. However, Fadnavis was not fully convinced with the clarification.”
Maria, 58, 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.
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.
This also brought him criticism from several quarters and the decision to move him was taken last week during a meeting of the departmental promotion committee headed by Bakshi.
Javed, who took charge as Mumbai’s police commissioner, 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, he worked as joint commissioner of Mumbai Police (law and order) and was responsible for closely monitoring and handling witnesses in the Best Bakery case from the 2002 Gujarat riots after the Supreme Court moved the trial to Maharashtra.
“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.”
NCP alleges Centre's hand
The government said the Mumbai Police commissioner’s post was upgraded to the director general rank held by Javed.
Opposition NCP alleged that Rakesh Maria was abruptly transferred owing to "political pressure" from Centre and to stop the probe into the money laundering angle in INX Media, founded by Indrani Mukerjea, prime accused in Sheena Bora murder case, and her husband Peter Mukerjea.
"The transfer (of Maria as Mumbai police commissioner) was done so as to stop investigations into the money laundering angle into INX Media, floated by Peter and Indrani Mukerjea, in which foreign companies from Singapore, UK and USA had invested about Rs 500 crore," NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik said.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) is reportedly probing the alleged forex violations by INX Media.
(With agency inputs)