Mumbai: Everyone who knows Amitabh Gupta, principal secretary (special) of the Maharashtra Home Department, has a kind word to say about him.
His colleagues, both past and present, describe him as efficient, honest, hardworking, non-controversial and a man of speedy decisions. These are descriptions that roll easily off the tongues of his colleagues, past and present.
An IPS officer of the 1992 batch who graduated from IIT, Gupta is a hands-on bureaucrat who is known to deliver his targets.
But on Thursday, he was at the centre of a row for allegedly granting permission to Kapil Wadhawan, an accused in the Yes Bank and PMC Bank cases, and his family to travel from Khandala (near Pune) to Mahabaleshwar in Satara district during the Covid-19 lockdown.
The permission, on Gupta’s official letterhead, had details of the six cars used by the Wadhawans as well as the names of passengers travelling in each of the cars. The letter reportedly stated that the Wadhawans are “his family friends” and be allowed to proceed to their destination.
An angry chief minister Uddhav Thackeray has ordered Gupta to go on compulsory leave pending inquiry. Additional chief secretary (Finance) Manoj Saunik has been appointed to inquire into the incident and given a 15-day deadline to complete the probe. Since Gupta is an IPS officer, the state government cannot suspend or dismiss him from service. The state government has to recommend such an action to the Centre, government sources said.
Shock in Mumbai Police
The Mumbai Police, where Gupta worked in various capacities including deputy inspector general (administration) and additional commissioner of police (West Zone) and additional director general of police and controller legal metrology, is shocked that he could be involved in a controversy, any for that matter.
“It is not possible that Gupta sir is involved in giving the Wadhawan family permission to travel during lockdown. Someone else is definitely involved. It cannot be Sir,” said a serving officer of the Mumbai Police.
In his late 40s and hailing from Uttar Pradesh, Gupta is a much loved officer within the force. As the additional commissioner of police in-charge of the West Zone, he set up a special squad that re-opened 20 cases involving various gangsters, including Ravi Pujari, forcing him to flee the country. The special squad also seized illegal weapons and solved many crimes involving temple thefts.
Retired assistant commissioner of police, Shivaji Kolekar, worked under Gupta as part of the special squad. For Kolekar, Gupta was a man who worked quietly and motivated others to do their best. “Sir is a fine and thorough gentleman,” Kolekar said. “He is a result oriented person, soft spoken and friendly with everyone in the team. I was privileged to work with sir.”
According to others, Gupta is a person who spoke his mind without being offensive. “He never let anger get the better of him. Even when he is angry, he is soft-spoken,” said a senior bureaucrat. A well-networked officer with contacts across the police force, the bureaucracy, celebrities and activists, Gupta is a man who prefers to work behind the scenes.
Kolekar said Gupta’s work culture was inspirational. “Sir made sure that all the files on his table were cleared at the end of the day, irrespective of how busy the day was,” Kolekar said. “By evening there would not be a single file left on Sir’s table. He left after he cleared the last file,” Kolekar said.
Gupta also oversees the implementation of the Intelligence Traffic Monitoring System (ITMS) for Mumbai, which is believed to be a solution to city’s complicated traffic management. He is also a member of the Uddhav Thackeray appointed panel set up for the withdrawal of cases in the Aarey and Nanar protests.
Officer straddled different administrations
Gupta was appointed as principal secretary (special), home department, in August 2018 by then chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. Since Fadnavis held the home portfolio, Gupta worked closely with him until the 2019 Assembly polls.
Though he was considered to be a blue-eyed civil servant of Fadnavis, incumbent Uddhav Thackeray decided to continue with him as the home secretary. “It is Gupta’s efficiency that made the new CM retain him,” said a government source.
In a tweet, Fadnavis defended Gupta. “No lockdowns for the mighty and rich in Maharashtra? One can spend holidays with official permission from the Police. It is not possible that a senior IPS officer would do such gross mistake knowing the consequences on his own,” he tweeted.
No lockdowns for mighty & rich in Maharashtra?
One can spend holidays in Mahabaleshwar with official permission from police.
It is not possible that a senior IPS officer would do such gross mistake knowing the consequences on his own.
— Devendra Fadnavis (@Dev_Fadnavis) April 9, 2020
Since the controversy broke Thursday night, Gupta has maintained silence on the issue. Home Minister Anil Deshmukh too refused to divulge details of his telephonic conversation with Gupta.
“We will conduct an inquiry to find out how 23 members of Wadhawan family travelled to Mahabaleshwar,” Deshmukh tweeted.
We will conduct an inquiry to find out how 23 members of Wadhwan family travelled to Mahabaleshwar.
— ANIL DESHMUKH (@AnilDeshmukhNCP) April 9, 2020