The Maharashtra government on Tuesday moved out Mumbai police chief Rakesh Maria, in a surprising move that is being viewed in official circles as a setback for the veteran officer who was in the midst of monitoring investigations in the sensational Sheena Bora murder case.
The government promoted Maria to the rank of Director General of Police (DGP) and got him to swap positions with Ahmad Javed, Director General, Home Guards and Commandant General, Civil Defence, who is now Mumbai’s 39th police chief.
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Sources said Maria was in his office at 10.30 am, chalking out the day’s programme, when he got the letter confirming his promotion and transfer. But there were enough indications that it was not a snap decision, with the government having already issued a temporary order to elevate the rank of police commissioner to accommodate Javed who is a DGP.
A 1980-batch IPS officer, Javed is senior to Maria and was in contention two years ago, during the Congress-NCP rule, for the post of commissioner before being promoted and posted to the Home Guards. He is due to retire on January 2016.
Incidentally, the new postings were announced a few hours after Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who handles the Home portfolio, left on a five-day tour to Japan.
Sources close to Maria said he was first sounded out about the promotion nearly a fortnight ago with the officer responding that he preferred a “non-executive posting” to spend more time with his family.
K P Bakshi, Additional Chief Secretary, told reporters that the shift would not affect the Sheena Bora case as most of the investigation was complete. Later, he said that Maria would continue to monitor the case “even after his elevation and transfer”.
The government’s move triggered intense speculation about the reasons behind Maria’s ouster. Sources said Maria was earlier reportedly asked by the Home Department if he knew Peter Mukerjea and his wife Indrani, who has been arrested for her alleged role in the murder. But the top officer, who was reported to have personally interrogated Indrani, “vehemently denied” any links and said that “he had never met Peter before in his life”.
There were also indications that the government was unhappy at the manner in which the case was attracting attention. On Saturday, CM Fadnavis had said that while the police had done a good job on the Sheena Bora case, similar attention should be paid to other cases too, which do not get media attention.
Sources said Maria had also met Fadnavis and appraised him of developments in the case and the need to interrogate Peter Mukerjea on his financial transactions.
Maria had recently landed in the midst of another controversy when a photo of him with tainted ex-IPL chief Lalit Modi had surfaced on social media.
However, sources close to Maria said he was “upset with the government’s order”. “He was keen to complete the murder probe by the end of the month and take over the new assignment,” the sources said.
Bakshi, meanwhile, said it would have been “inappropriate” to implement the transfer at the end of the month, as originally planned, as it would have happened in the middle of the Ganpati festival, one of the most important events in the city.
Javed said after taking charge on Tuesday afternoon that his priority would be to ensure “law and order, security of women and children, and improvement of delivery of service to the common man”.
Asked about the Sheena Bora case, he said: “Investigation is collective teamwork. The decision about whose expertise has to be used depends on the ground situation. We have competent officers to probe it. The question of interrogation does not arise as the suspects are in judicial custody”.
Javed had earlier served in the city as Joint Commissioner (Law & Order) between 2002 to 2005 and later as Navi Mumbai police commissioner.