Controversies are not new to Rakesh Maria, the 58-year-old IPS officer and currently Mumbai police commissioner, who is now directly under the scanner of chief minister Devendra Fadnavis for having allegedly met former IPL commissioner Lalit Modi while on an official visit to London.
Though Maria issued an elaborate press brief on the Mumbai police website clarifying his stand, and submitted the necessary papers to the chief minister , whether or not he will continue as Mumbai police commissioner till September this year remains undecided.
Born into a family of a Bollywood film producer in Mumbai, Maria rejected the film world that he grew up in, and instead opted for the IPS service in 1981 after graduating from St Xavier’s College. Maria insists that he joined the IPS ‘for the dignity and discipline of the force’. Not surprising then that all three options for the various services in Maria’s UPSC form read ‘IPS..IPS..IPS’.
Maria started his career in 1981 as an assistant superintendent of police in Akola, and is still grateful to all the constables who took him around on night patrols and taught him the tricks of the trade.
But, a change in department and profile awaited this officer who had always wanted to specialise in traffic management – he had even attended a specialised course in Japan – after he moved to Mumbai in 1986. Maria’s presence of mind during the serial blasts in 1993 saw him lead a team to track down vital leads and crack the case.
The case saw Maria’s life undergo a drastic change. He cultivated his own set of informers, had sleepless nights and learnt the by-lanes of Mumbai like the back of his hand. Few know that it was Maria, who held actor Sanjay Dutt by his hair and toppled him from the chair, leading him to finally confess his association with the underworld elements involved in the 1993 blasts and his possession of an AK-47 assault rifle.
As Maria too believes, fame comes with its share of rivalries and controversies. But, the suave, smart and soft-spoken officer rarely betrays the steely grit with which he has battled the ups and downs in his 34-year career as an IPS officer. One of the first controversies Maria faced was when a media outlet conducted a sting operation in connection with the cricket betting scandal in 2003. Though Maria escaped unscathed, it was not long before he found himself in another controversy.
An email, which contained a terror alert at a prominent place of worship in Mumbai, was allegedly sent from his own email id. The episode saw Maria being shunted out to the Protection of Civil Rights branch.
But, this did not stop the officer, who in candid moments, loves to talk about Taekwondo and the way he longs to get on to the basketball court, to battling the controversy. He conducted an independent investigation and found that the terror email was sent by an inspector. Though Maria spent considerable time in low-profile postings like being inspector general (training), he shot back into the limelight when he was appointed the Mumbai joint commissioner of police (crime) in 2007.
A spree of detections started at the Mumbai crime branch and it also saw Maria being credited for busting the first Indian Mujahideen module when he lined up 22 terror operatives to brief the media. He and his men had trailed car thieves from point to point and arrested the IM operatives who had bombed Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra since 2005. Later in 2011, he also led the vital 26/11 Mumbai terror strike investigations to interrogate and extract vital information from the sole surviving Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist Kasab.
But, the 26/11 investigations also led to another controversy where the wife of slain IPS officer Ashok Kamte levelled allegations against Maria of mishandling the situation. Later, posted as the additional director general of police (ATS), he investigated three blast cases -- the Pune German Bakery, Mumbai 13/7 serial blasts and the low intensity blasts at Pune’s Jungli Maharaj road.
Though he does not have many friends in the force, his fellow officers admire his investigation skills. “You have no choice but to give the devil his due. He gets his work done, and one can do nothing, but admire that,” said an IPS officer, requesting anonymity.
But, he will never give away the secret behind his ability to make hardened criminals talk. “He is soft till the time he talks. But when he smacks, I have seen the toughest criminal crack,” states a police officer who has been close to him for nearly 15 years and was surprised when Maria, just before addressing a media briefing, slapped an accused unconscious in his office premises.
Important cases Rakesh Maria investigated
* 1993 blasts case – Thirteen bomb explosions ripped Mumbai apart on March 12, 1993 in which nearly 250 people were killed and more than 700 were injured, making it one of the most coordinated and destructive bomb blasts in India's history. The attacks were coordinated by underworld gangster Dawood Ibrahim, who is believed to have found refuge in Pakistan. At least 123 people were arrested, of which 100 were convicted by a TADA court.
* 2003 Twin Blasts – Blasts at Zaveri Bazaar and Gateway of India on August 25, 2003, saw 52 people killed and more than 100 injured. Six accused, including main conspirators Ashrat Ansari, Hanif Sayed, his wife Fahmida Sayed. Three were convicted
* 2008 Kidney Racket – Arrested the doctor who, along with his accomplices, ran a kidney racket from Chennai.
* 2008 Indian Mujahideen – 22 Indian Mujahideen cadre who had terrorised the country with bomb blasts in Delhi, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bangalore were arrested.
* 2008 Mumbai 26/11 terror attacks – 10 Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists fired indiscriminately and held Mumbai at siege for 60 hours. One terrorist, Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab was captured alive. Investigations into the entire case along with foreign agencies were conducted by the Mumbai crime branch under Rakesh Maria
* Arun Gawli – The dreaded underworld gangster, who had always managed to evade arrest, was arrested for extorting money from a builder. Investigations later led to the discovery of his involvement in the murder of Shiv Sena corporator Kamlakar Jamsandekar.
* Maria Susairaj case – An executive of a multinational company was brutally murdered, and his body chopped into pieces and burnt in a jungle. The Mumbai crime branch, which investigated the case, arrested aspiring actress Maria Susairaj and her boyfriend Emile Jerome for the murder.
* Pune German Bakery Blasts
* Mumbai 13/7 serial blasts
* Pune low intensity blast at Jungli Maharaj Road