Mumbai: Of the last three photos that went up on the Mumbai Police’s ‘Wall of Fame’, which memorialises the force’s outgoing chiefs, two were of IPS officers of the director general (DG) rank — Param Bir Singh and Sanjay Pandey — facing probes for serious charges such as extortion and money laundering.
Another IPS officer from Maharashtra of the additional director general (ADG) rank, Rashmi Shukla, is under inquiry for alleged illegal phone tapping, while there is a lookout notice against a fourth officer, deputy commissioner of police Saurabh Tripathi — now suspended for his alleged role in extortion from angadias, or traditional couriers.
The cases have severely tarnished the reputation of the police force in Maharashtra, which was once considered among the country’s finest forces with accomplished officers; there was a time when the Mumbai Police was thought to be second only to the Scotland Yard.
Former officers of the force say that while the reputation of the Mumbai Police has strongly come under question now, the alleged rot was brewing for more than two decades. They largely blame the slide on increasing political interference in the police force and the appointment of officers for their “considerations”. Moreover, the temptations involved in working in capital Mumbai with its glamour and money can make matters worse, they said.
Speaking to ThePrint, D. Sivanandan, a senior IPS officer who retired as director general of police, Maharashtra, in 2011, said, “This is happening in all metropolitan cities where there is a high level of economic activity such as Delhi, Bengaluru or Kolkata. But, Maharashtra was always considered to be a state with a good, strong administration. We had brought extortion to a grinding halt, and stopped all mafia activities in 2001. That is why the rot is being especially noticed in Maharashtra now.”
“The bottom line is that the officer has to be honest, risk-taking and should not oblige his political masters,” he said.
‘A treacherous minefield’
In 2018, when Subodh Kumar Jaiswal, now director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), took over as the Mumbai Police chief, he told his force to stay away from glamour and ‘Page 3’ parties — a term used for events covered in the society pages of newspapers.
Then, last year, the Nationalist Congress Party’s (NCP) Ajit Pawar, then the deputy chief minister, warned Maharashtra police personnel against using “expensive cars given to them by businessmen”.
The two statements sum up the allure and entrapments of policing a state like Maharashtra, especially capital city Mumbai.
Retired IPS officer M.N. Singh, a former Maharashtra DGP, describes it as a “treacherous minefield”.
“There are all kinds of temptations. It is a city of make believe, where the culture of money dominates. If the officers at the helm of affairs are not of a strong moral texture, such things happen. Many officers have succumbed to greed. That is typical of this city,” Singh, also a former Mumbai Police chief, told ThePrint.
Earlier this month, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) arrested Sanjay Pandey, who retired as Mumbai Police chief on 30 June, for allegedly tapping the phones of National Stock Exchange employees, which the ED suspects may be linked to money laundering.
Pandey is the second Mumbai Police chief to be arrested by a law enforcement agency within days of retiring.
It’s said that the first major case that brought the reputation and integrity of the Maharashtra Police into question was the 2003 fake stamp paper scam, in which counterfeiter Abdul Karim Telgi was the main accused. A number of Maharashtra Police officers, including former Mumbai Police chief R.S. Sharma — who had also headed the Pune police — were named as accused in the case. Sharma was discharged in 2007.
A special investigating team formed by the Maharashtra government to probe the case in 2003 had even found that a few policemen had partied at Telgi’s house in Colaba in the past.
The stamp paper scam also led to the resignation of the NCP’s Chhagan Bhujbal as home minister of Maharashtra in December 2003, though officially he maintained that he had resigned because some NCP workers vandalised a private TV channel’s office space for their depiction of Bhujbal’s alleged involvement in the case.
Meeran Borwankar, a retired senior IPS officer, told ThePrint, “Police leadership was mostly honest till the 1980s. After that, corruption and being at the beck and call of politicians took over, and the slide in the Maharashtra Police started. In the last decade and a half, the police-politicians-builders-criminals nexus became blatant and brazen. Citizens, civil society, and the media either kept quiet or took sides.”
“What was earlier stray became the new normal,” added Borwankar, who had held prestigious postings such as chief of the Mumbai Police’s crime branch and the Pune commissioner of police.
The first decade of the 2000s was also when several of Mumbai Police’s famed sharpshooters, such as Daya Nayak, Pradeep Sharma and Sachin Waze, faced suspensions for reasons varying from alleged custodial killings to disproportionate assets.
Then, in 2020, retired former Mumbai Police chief Rakesh Maria in his autobiography wrote about how senior IPS officer Deven Bharti was allegedly on a first-name basis with television executives Indrani and Peter Mukerjea, alleged to have killed the former’s daughter Sheena Bora. Maria claimed in his book that Bharti did not inform him about Bora’s disappearance, though he had been aware about it for some time. Bharti rejected Maria’s claims.
The following year, the Mumbai Police filed an FIR against Bharti for cheating and forgery under the Indian Passport Act, for allegedly pressuring a police officer not to follow up a case against a BJP leader’s wife.
Earlier this year, the Maharashtra government suspended IPS officer Saurabh Tripathi and the Mumbai Police issued a lookout circular against him for his alleged involvement in extorting money from angadias.
Vehicle of a proxy war
Pradeep Sharma and Waze’s names cropped up in a controversy once again in the 2021 Antilia explosives case, which in the past few years was the first major case to raise questions on political pressure in the police force. Both former encounter specialists were arrested in the case by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in 2021.
The Uddhav Thackeray-led former Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government — an alliance of the Congress, the NCP and the Shiv Sena — initially shielded Waze, a former Shiv Sena member. But it then suspended him (he was eventually dismissed) and transferred Param Bir Singh from the post of Mumbai commissioner of police.
A hurt Param Bir then made allegations of extortion and political interference against the then home minister Anil Deshmukh, which became the basis of a probe against the latter and eventually his arrest under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.
Param Bir then faced multiple extortion cases registered by the Mumbai Police that are now being investigated by the CBI, and the Maharashtra Police almost became a vehicle for a proxy war between the MVA and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Param Bir, who had been part of the Maharashtra Police for three decades, told the Supreme Court he had no faith in the force, a narrative that supported the BJP’s allegations against the MVA.
The BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis, then leader of the opposition, hit out at the MVA government for sitting on a crucial report prepared by IPS officer Rashmi Shukla on corruption in police transfers, while the Maharashtra Police registered cases against her for alleged illegal phone tapping.
As acting director general of police, IPS Officer Sanjay Pandey was instrumental in filing FIRs against Param Bir and in the probe against Shukla, and was even called the “blue-eyed officer” of the MVA government by the Bombay High Court, before the Thackeray administration appointed him Mumbai Police chief.
After his retirement, Pandey too landed in trouble in connection with the NSE co-location scam.
D. Sivanandan, who has served as Mumbai Police chief as well as Maharashtra DGP, said, “The rot in the last three or four years is because the political system has become rotten, whether it was the BJP-Shiv Sena, then the trio in the form of MVA. The selection of the officer is not by the choice of the government or the administration. They were chosen only for their utility to serve their political masters for a ‘consideration’, and they bent over backwards.”
Retired officer M.N. Singh said, “An officer might comply with the demands of a politician till the water comes to his nose. Why did the Param Bir bomb explode? Because he found himself in a difficult position.”
“Param Bir may have a lot to hide, but whatever he said about the political class extorting money cannot be dismissed,” he said, adding that investigating agencies also need to disclose why in the first place an explosives-laden car was parked outside Antilia, while facts brought out in Shukla’s report when she was the head of the state Criminal Intelligence Department should be made public.
ThePrint reached Param Bir Singh on calls and text message but had received no response by the time this report was published , while Shukla said she did not wish to comment.
In March this year, Shukla had approached the Bombay High Court saying the complaint against her was only with the “intention of harassing her”.
‘Political interference worsened after reforms’
In 2006, the Supreme Court issued a set of directives for reforms in state police forces to insulate them from politics. However, according to ex-DGP M.N. Singh, the Maharashtra government’s implementation of these has worsened political interference in postings and transfers.
Under the SC order, governments were required to set up Police Establishment Boards comprising the DGP and senior officers to make recommendations to the state government on transfers and postings. The state home minister and CM were by and large expected to approve these.
The Maharashtra government did set up a Police Establishment Board, but included a government official from the state home department in it, ensuring that political interference crept in, Singh said.
The former DGP added that the home portfolio in Maharashtra is traditionally held by the chief minister, and it’s important that it continues to be so. “In recent coalition governments, the portfolio has gone to the coalition partner that doesn’t have the CM’s post, creating another centre of command,” he said.
The NCP has held the home portfolio for the most part of the past two decades, barring the 2014-19 period, when then CM Devendra Fadnavis kept the portfolio himself instead of giving it to the BJP’s then alliance partner, the Shiv Sena.
Retired IPS officer Borwankar alleged that political links between officers and politicians have worsened.
“By the time I retired, ‘taking sides’ had become very obvious. The malaise existed earlier too, but to a much smaller degree. Therefore, the Supreme Court-mandated police reforms must be implemented by all states in their true spirit,” she added.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)