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Sunday, October 17, 2021

Maharashtra: From suicide case to graft allegations, state and central govts continue proxy war through agencies

The CBI summons to the Maharashtra Chief Secretary and DGP in the Anil Deshmukh case is the latest friction point and it has triggered an unprecedented "summons" war.

Written by Mohamed Thaver | Mumbai |
Updated: October 15, 2021 7:27:04 am
Most of last year, it was Mumbai Police versus the CBI, NCB and ED over the Sushant Singh Rajput suicide case, the Mumbai Police versus ED in the TRP scam investigation that was launched by the police, and the Maharashtra government’s decision to withdraw general consent for the CBI.

The Maharashtra government and the Centre are engaged in a no holds barred proxy war through their respective law enforcement agencies, with serving and retired police officials in the state terming it “unparalleled”, “disgusting” and “dangerous”.

The CBI summons to the Maharashtra Chief Secretary and DGP in the Anil Deshmukh case is the latest friction point and it has triggered an unprecedented “summons” war. The Maharashtra Police asked the CBI director, himself a former Maharashtra DGP, to appear before it in the phone tapping case. The CBI responded with another summons to the two most senior officials in the state. The state government has taken the matter to the High Court.

In another episode in the tug of war, the Mumbai zonal director of the NCB, Sameer Wankhede, has alleged that two plainclothes officials from Mumbai Police were following him, and gave a complaint to the DGP’s office and the Union Home Ministry. The state police said on Thursday that an enquiry had been ordered into his complaint.

Earlier, Nawab Malik, a leader from the NCP, which is in the ruling MVA coalition, had alleged that Wankhede was working on behalf of the BJP to taint Bollywood. He alleged that for the raid on the cruise ship Cordelia, which led to the arrest of Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan’s son, Wankhede had taken along as a panch witness a member of the BJP.

Under investigation currently by the ED and CBI are the following MVA leaders — Deputy CM and NCP leader Ajit Pawar, NCP leaders Anil Deshmukh, Eknath Khadse and Sena leaders Anil Parab, MP Bhavana Gawali and Pratap Sarnaik.

Most of last year, it was Mumbai Police versus the CBI, NCB and ED over the Sushant Singh Rajput suicide case, the Mumbai Police versus ED in the TRP scam investigation that was launched by the police, and the Maharashtra government’s decision to withdraw general consent for the CBI.

The proxy tensions hit a peak since the security scare outside the Ambani home earlier this year exposed the seamy side of Mumbai Police, leading to the arrest of sub-inspector Sachin Waze, who was reportedly close to former Mumbai police commissioner Param Bir Singh.

After Leader of Opposition Devendra Fadnavis exposed Waze’s role in the Antilia bomb scare, the NIA took over the case, days after the state government transferred it to the Maharashtra ATS.

In September, when the NIA chargesheet was filed, NCP leader Nawab Malik alleged that Param Bir Singh had been left out of it as he had “helped” the Centre with his bombshell letter alleging corruption by then Home Minister Deshmukh.

Singh’s allegations of corruption against Deshmukh, and Singh’s subsequent transfer out, opened a massive can of worms. A 2019 cash for police transfers investigation by the State Intelligence Department (SID) carried out during Jaiswal’s watch as DGP came to the fore soon after, with Fadnavis leaking details of phone taps carried out during the investigation.

In the state government, Jaiswal — he left the state police to go on central deputation as DG CISF at the end of 2019 after a bitter spat Deshmukh over the transfers — and IPS officer Rashmi Shukla had access to details of the phone taps that were leaked (the state has still called them witnesses and not suspects), now being investigated by the Mumbai Police cyber cell.

Officials see the CBI summons to state Chief Secretary Sitaram Kunte and DGP Sanjay Pandey in the Deshmukh case as also bearing the stamp of Jaiswal. Neither of them has been named in the case, and have been summoned as “witnesses”.

“The CBI is unable to question the accused and the complainant is missing, but it wants to question two officials who have nothing to do with the case,” said a senior state government official.

Neither Pandey nor Kunte have answered the summons, with the state government on Tuesday filing a writ challenging the summons.

Former senior IPS officers of the state police said they were shocked and disappointed at the way one law enforcing agency was being pitted against another.

Julio Ribeiro, former Mumbai Police Commissioner, said, “Such a thing has never happened before and it is very disgusting, I must say. There were some wrong choices made in the past by appointing persons with doubtful integrity in key postings, which has led to all of this. It is all very disappointing.”

Former Maharashtra DGP Pravin Dixit called the developments “unparalleled”. “Due to this, the main job of these agencies that is to go after terrorists and anti-nationals takes a back seat. The public is aghast as they have no idea why all this is happening. While political parties should desist from using officers for their own ends, partly the officers are to be blamed as well,” he said.

Former Maharashtra IPS officer Meeran Chadha Borwankar said, “This kind of confrontational policy is extremely dangerous, harmful and unprofessional. If the state police and CBI are for ‘finding the truth’, we should be collaborating to do so. All political parties are ‘using’ law enforcement agencies for their own selfish ends. Providing good governance to common citizens is nowhere in their focus. I am appalled to say the least.”

An official from the Home Department said that the state government had acted in a “most restrained manner”. “It is not that we shot off a summons soon after the CBI summoned the state Chief Secretary and DGP as retaliation. Our probe in the data leak case was continuing and we issued summons to Jaiswal to get more clarity on the case. In fact, after we issued summons, the CBI immediately issued a third summons, asking the officials to appear on a date prior to the one assigned for the CBI director to appear before the Mumbai Police,” the official said.

While Jaiswal did not respond to calls and messages seeking his version on the issue, CBI sources said that the summons were sent in keeping with the investigation that CBI was conducting and that there was nothing more to it. Pandey and Kunte too did not respond to requests seeking their comments on the issue.

Deepening the fault lines

While there have been rifts among IPS officers in the past, the Centre versus state issue has aggravated the situation, with each side appearing to have a free hand to act against the other. In the faction-ridden Maharashtra Police, it has served to expose all the fault lines.

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