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Monday, April 12, 2021

Sharad Pawar sidesteps letter fallout: ‘Let CM decide, suggest probe by Julio Ribeiro’

Sharad Pawar also acknowledged that there were “serious lapses by certain sections of the Mumbai Police” that has led to the force’s reputation being “lowered in the eyes of the public”.

Written by Zeeshan Shaikh , Jayprakash S Naidu | Mumbai |
Updated: March 22, 2021 7:33:24 am
Sharad Pawar sidesteps letter fallout: ‘Let CM decide, suggest probe by Julio Ribeiro’NCP Chief Pawar in New Delhi on Sunday. (Express photo by Prem Nath Pandey)

A DAY after former Mumbai police chief Param Bir Singh levelled serious charges of corruption against Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh, NCP chief Sharad Pawar placed the onus of tackling the fallout of the allegations against his party’s senior representative in the State Cabinet on Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray.

Pawar suggested an independent probe into the allegations by someone “who commands respect both in the police administration and the public at large” and recommended retired IPS officer Julio Rebeiro for the role — Ribeiro, however, described the situation as “very murky” and said he would refuse any such request.

Pawar also acknowledged that there were “serious lapses by certain sections of the Mumbai Police” that has led to the force’s reputation being “lowered in the eyes of the public”.

The former Union Minister described Singh’s allegations as “wild” and said that the IPS officer had not mentioned them during a meeting to brief him and Thackeray. He confirmed, though, that Singh had complained of “political interference” in the police department.

Addressing a press conference Sunday in Delhi, Pawar said: “Allegations have been made and it is the prerogative of the Chief Minister to take an appropriate decision on this issue. The CM has full authority to take a decision regarding these allegations and conduct an inquiry into it.”

Later, Maharashtra NCP chief Jayant Patil said after attending a meeting with Pawar that “there is no question” of seeking Deshmukh’s resignation.

On Saturday, three days after he was posted to the Home Guards in the wake of the bomb scare outside Mukesh Ambani’s house, Singh wrote to Thackeray, alleging that Deshmukh had asked Assistant Police Inspector Sachin Waze, later arrested by the NIA in the case, to collect Rs 100 crore every month, including Rs 40-50 crore from around 1,750 bars and restaurants in Mumbai.

Singh also suggested that he was being made a “scapegoat” and that his transfer was the price he had to pay for resisting the Home Minister’s “interference” in the work of the force.

Pawar said: “The allegations have been made by the police authority of Mumbai against the Home Minister of the state. Also, there have been serious lapses by certain sections of the Mumbai Police, which have affected the reputation of the force. I feel there is a need for conducting an in-depth inquiry by a person who commands respect both in the police administration and the public at large. I don’t know if he will agree to take up this responsibility, but I am going to suggest to the Chief Minister to appoint former CP of Mumbai Julio Ribeiro to conduct an inquiry into this case.”

However, when contacted by The Indian Express, Ribeiro, who is known for his record as an upright officer while in service, said: “If I am asked to conduct an inquiry, I will refuse. Please understand that I am 92 years old. I do not have the ability to make such an inquiry. Even if I had the ability, I would have refused because this is a very murky affair and it is not meant for people like me.”

Ribeiro said that Pawar is “aware of everything” and should conduct an inquiry against Deshmukh. “The inquiry must be made by Sharad Pawar himself. He is the head of the party. They know everything and should take action. And they will have to do it because the people now are fed up of all this,” he said.

Asked if he would recommend anyone else, Ribeiro said, “I have no intention of recommending and putting poor good people in this situation. It is very, very murky and very, very tricky. It’s not only low-level politics but also corruption in a very big way and now with allegations of murder taking place being attributed to Mumbai Police. All of this is happening because of ambitious police officers and unscrupulous politicians.”

Ribeiro, a Padma Bhushan awardee in 1987, has served as police commissioner in Mumbai, and Director General of Police in Gujarat and in Punjab. On March 18, in a column for The Indian Express, he had raised a series of questions on Waze and the bomb scare case. “Will this matter bring more senior police leaders under the scanner? Why was Waze reinstated? Why was he given such a sensitive post? Why was he not put on Covid-related duties, on which pretext he was reinstated? These questions need to be answered,” Ribeiro wrote.

Pawar, meanwhile, remained noncommittal on whether the NCP would take action against Deshmukh. “That decision is the Chief Minister’s responsibility. He will decide after having a discussion with us. We, too, will have an internal discussion within the party and hear what Deshmukh has to say,” he said.

Later on Sunday, Pawar held a 90-minute meeting with state NCP chief Patil and Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar at his Delhi residence.

“There is no need to deflect attention from the main issue, which is the the planting of explosives outside Antilia and Mansukh Hiran’s murder. Our government’s emphasis remains on finding the perpetrators behind these incidents,” said Patil, who is also the state Water Resources Minister.

During the press conference earlier, Pawar also questioned Param Bir Singh’s allegations and said that during their meeting he had not raised the issues listed in the letter. “In his letter, he has said that he had briefed me as well as the Maharashtra CM. In his briefing to us and in his letter, there is, however, no information if any money was actually collected and whether this money was ever transferred to the Home Minister of his staff. These are all allegations,” he said.

Pawar said he believed that Singh had made these allegations because he was removed from his post. “He has raised these wild allegations only when the government took a conscious decision to shift him from his post as Mumbai CP to a less significant post. Prior to his transfer, he never mentioned such a thing or made any allegations against the Home Minister,” he said.

Pawar, however, confirmed that Singh had complained about “political interference”. “Singh had met me before his transfer and told me that was talk about shifting him from his post. He said it would be injustice to him if he was moved. He also told me that there was political interference in his department,” he said.

The Thackeray-led Shiv Sena, meanwhile, remained silent on the allegations.

Speaking to reporters, Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut said: “The allegations are very serious. The people call it a letter bomb but how much truth it has will be checked by the Chief Minister or Pawar Saheb. Because Anil Deshmukh himself has asked for an inquiry in the letter. In wake of this incident, each alliance partner of the government needs to introspect. They need to check if their feet are on the ground.”

Raut said: “The Chief Minister has tried very hard to maintain the dignity of this government. Certain officers should have been kept in check at the right time.”

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