Former Mumbai Police Commissioner Rakesh Maria has claimed in his autobiography that at the beginning of the investigation into Sheena Bora’s murder in 2015, Deven Bharti, the Joint Commissioner of Police (Law and Order) had not disclosed to him that he knew jailed media baron Peter Mukerjea and his wife Indrani Mukerjea, who are prime suspects in the case.
In his book, Let Me Say It Now, retired IPS officer Maria also claimed that Peter had informed Bharti about Sheena’s disappearance much before her remains were discovered in a forest in Raigad in August 2015.
The revelations about Bharti’s friendship with the Mukerjeas came while Maria questioned Peter at Khar police station soon after Indrani’s arrest. In the book, Maria narrates the incident saying that he questioned Peter why he didn’t do anything when he found out about Sheena’s sudden disappearance in 2012. “Sir, I had told Deven!” is what Peter had replied.
“I looked at Deven with a quizzical look on my face, but he was poker-faced,” Maria writes, adding that all the officers in that interrogation room were taken aback at Peter’s disclosure but tried to look unaffected.
When reached for a comment, Bharti, who is now Additional Director General of Police (Anti Terrorism Squad), said, “Mr Maria belongs to a family linked with Bollywood and, it seems, scriptwriters have a great influence on him. In addition, it appears to be a marketing strategy which attempts to grab more eyeballs rather than placing facts. Moreover, for a policeman, it’s advisable to read the charge sheet and case diary rather than a piece of fiction. Won’t comment much as the trial is in progress but would definitely tell that the whole investigation team was aware of all developments and were on the same page till investigation was with Mumbai Police.”
In his book, Maria says he didn’t question Bharti at the time since their subordinates were present in the interrogation room. But he adds that Peter’s revelation and the indication that he apparently was on first-name basis with Deven Bharti surprised him. Maria says that night was sleepless for him since he wanted to understand what had Peter told him that night.
“…why had he not divulged this vital information to me, and this despite he and I meeting on a daily basis and even traveling together to the Khar police station! He had never told me he know Peter and Indrani! Even when I was protesting that I did not know them and the media was unnecessarily pointing accusatory fingers at me!” Maria wrote.
The book adds that Bharti would remain silent during every discussion of the case and why the police in Raigad had not registered a case of accidental death when they found Sheena’s body in 2012. Maria also wrote that Bharti could have investigated Sheena’s disappearance in 2012 when he was Additional Commissioner of Police, Crime Branch and Rahul Mukerjea had gone to the police to lodge a missing person’s report. In the book, Maria claimed that he could not sleep that night and had planned to gather enough evidence to confront Bharti the very next day.
Maria also wrote that he was informed about his promotion to Director General of Police, Home Guards, by a text message from then Additional Chief Secretary, Home, K. P. Bakshi. Devendra Fadnavis, who was then Maharashtra Chief Minister, had signed Maria’s transfer order the night before embarking on a six-day visit to Japan. However, Bakshi later announced that Maria would continue to monitor the probe.
Maria also wrote of the hurt he felt when Fadnavis told television news channels that he had been misled by the Mumbai Police about Peter’s role in the murder. He had reproduced a text message he sent Fadanvis a text message denying ever misled him about Peter’s role or of giving him a clean chit. The book states that Maria felt Fadnavis would undo the damage by promising to give an interview to the Press Trust of India. However, newspaper headlines the next day stated that hiding Peter’s role led to his ouster as Mumbai Police Commissioner.
Maria clarified that he had briefed Fadnavis only once about the case and that was over the phone in the initial days of the probe. He also wrote that if Fadanvais had found his four visits to Khar police station inappropriate, he could have asked for an explanation like he had during his controversial meeting with former Indian Premier League Commissioner Lalit Modi in London. Later, when Maria met Fadnavis in October to clear the air, the CM claimed that Maria was promoted only to make way for his successor, Ahmed Javed.
“It was difficult to keep pace with the numerous somersaults that the athletic Mantralaya Tsars were executing one after the other. The somersaults were designed to make a digestible case for public consumption for my transfer on promotion which was unceremonious, sudden, ‘a bit early’ and in the midst of a sensitive investigation,” Maria wrote.