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Damage control does more damage

mumbai Updated: Sep 09, 2015 13:05 IST
Surendra P Gangan
Surendra P Gangan
Hindustan Times

Rakesh Maria, the former police commissioner of Mumbai, leaves the commissioner office in Mumbai. (HT photo)

The way the government handled the transfer of senior IPS officer Rakesh Maria has baffled many in the Maharashtra administration and in political and police circles. Did no one think through the implications of the timing? And why undermine Ahmad Javed by again giving Maria control of the Sheena Bora case? This was clearly a damage-control exercise in the face of criticism of, and speculation about, the timing of the government’s decision.

According to government sources, as the buzz grew about the change of the Mumbai police commissioner in the midst of the investigations into such a high-profile case, the minister of state (home) Ranjit Patil and the additional chief secretary KP Bakshi met to discuss how to handle it. They then called up chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, who holds the home portfolio, in Japan. Then came the decision to let Maria continue to oversee the investigations.

Sources in the government said Fadnavis had decided to transfer Maria as Mumbai police commissioner in June itself when it came to light that he had met former IPL commissioner Lalit Modi on a visit to London for an Interpol meeting in July last year. Fadnavis was not satisfied Maria’s clarification. “Fadnavis had asked the officer to submit documentary evidence to corroborate his claim that he had informed the then home minister, the late RR Patil, about the meeting. Maria had claimed that the meeting was important from the security point of view as Modi was to share vital information related to the underworld. However, Fadnavis was not fully convinced,” said a top official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

However, this was the time when Congress-led opposition was gunning for External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje on the same issue. Removing Maria as Mumbai police chief would have given more ammunition to the Congress.

As such, Fadnavis was asked to go slow by his bosses, said the sources.

The process to transfer Maria gathered momentum afresh after criticism from various quarters over his focus on the Sheena Bora murder case.

Fadnavis himself gave an indication when late last week he told a group of journalists during an informal chat that the Mumbai police should pay equal attention to all cases and not just one.

However, what surprised many in the state administration was the timing: Was it necessary to shift Maria just three weeks before his transfer was due?

“The government did not want Maria to be in control of the charge sheet in the Sheena case. Further, Maria went on spending more time on the case even after Fadnavis’ public taunt. An angry Fadnavis wanted to send a strong signal to the police force that he as home minister was the final authority in handling policing matters,” said a top official.

He decided to appoint Ahmad Javed though four other IPS officers --Vijay Kamble, KK Pathak, Datta Padsalagikar and Meeran Borwankar -- were also eligible.

The timing of the transfer led to different theories being discussed in the media and political circles.

And as the media started questioning the move, the government hastily announced that Maria will continue to monitor the investigation of the Sheena Bora case even after his transfer. Bakshi issued a two-line statement in this respect.

“The government should have avoided the second move. It would now mean undermining the authority of Javed who is the new Mumbai police chief. How can the investigating officer report to another authority,” said a retired bureaucrat.

The Opposition has termed the decision to let Maria continue monitoring the case as nothing but eyewash.

“Maria was transferred after he announced he would investigate the financial links of the Mukerjeas and their accounts in other countries. BJP leaders were worried that the investigations would expose many of them involved in money-laundering related to this case,” alleged Nawab Malik, chief spokesperson of the NCP.