A former police commissioner recalls his promotion during the Sheena Bora murder case

19 February, 2020

Rakesh Maria, a former commissioner of police of Mumbai, was involved in investigating the 2012 murder of Sheena Bora—a 24-year-old human-resources executive. Her mother, the media executive Indrani Mukerjea, was arrested for the crime, in August 2015, and subsequently so were Sanjeev Khanna and Peter Mukerjea, her ex-husband and husband, respectively. At the time, Peter was one of Mumbai’s most powerful media professionals. 

In his newly published memoir, Let Me Say It Now, Maria remembers that while evidence was being gathered for the probe, Peter Mukerjea was regularly summoned to the Khar police station and questioned. Maria also recalls briefing Devandra Fadnavis, the Maharashtra chief minister at the time, on one occasion, when he stated that though Peter had not been present during the murder, his complicity was being looked into. On 8 September 2015, Maria was promoted to the position of director-general of police of the state’s home guards, effectively removing him from what was an immensely high-profile criminal case at the time. This was followed by media speculation that Maria had known the Mukerjeas socially, which he had categorically denied. Fadnavis suggested in a 2016 interview that Maria was promoted “a little early to avoid controversies.” 

In Let Me Say It Now, Maria claims that shortly after his transfer, the media began reporting that his successor, Ahmad Javed, knew Indrani and her husband Peter socially. He also recalls a sleepless night on 7 September 2015. That day, he had been hit by the realisation that Peter Mukerjee knew Deven Bharti—at the time, the joint commissioner of police, law and order—on first-name terms. This was after he had asked Peter why he had not done anything about Sheena’s absence, to which he allegedly got the reply, “Sir, I had told Deven!” Maria adds, “Deven Bharti had not thought it fit to tell me even once that the Mukerjeas were close to him. On the contrary, whenever I would discuss with him the mystery of the nonregistration of the missing complaint or the accidental death report, he would keep his silence.” In the following excerpt from the book, Maria recounts the circumstances surrounding his promotion, and how he was kept in the dark about the decision. 

I had taken charge of my new assignment without any delay, as is expected of a disciplined officer. Yet deep down, there was a sense of hurt. It was strange that I should have received no advance communication from the state government conveying their decision to promote and transfer me before the completion of my term, leave alone give reasons for such a move. A prior intimation is the least that was expected, and a decent way of doing it. The absence of it belittled the dignity of the office of the commissioner of police, Mumbai and also put to nought my 34 years of selfless service in the Indian Police Service. Yet, the cardinal principle of government service is that postings and transfers are a prerogative of the state and I therefore kept my feelings to myself. 

I was flooded with agonising queries from friends and family who wanted to know if and where I had gone wrong. It was clear that my reputation was getting sullied in their eyes, and also in the eyes of my colleagues, my seniors in the IPS and the general public. For there was a great degree of speculation on the reasons for my abrupt transfer: that I had taken undue interest in the Sheena Bora murder case and that was the reason behind my alleged daily visits to Khar police station; that I was friends with Peter Mukerjea; that I had posted officers close to me at the Khar police station and that I had shielded Peter Mukerjea by not probing the financial angle in the crime. Although the media hounded me for my answers and views, I maintained my silence as a disciplined police officer, and also in the interest of the investigation which was at a critical stage. 

While all these events were unfolding, I hardly had the time to watch television and read each newspaper and periodical carefully to see who said what and when! It is now when I sit and go through some of the old reports that I am filled with a sense of wonderment at the confusion created. I keep wondering if and how it could have been prevented. And I really have no clear answers. 

Despite the suspicion created to surround my actions qua the Sheena Bora case, there were some strong voices of protest against my transfer—that it was a deliberate move to derail the investigation. Some even acknowledged that the investigating team was on its way to making a water-tight case. Not just the suddenness of the transfer in the midst of the investigation, even the swiftness with which the charge was taken over from me was being discussed. How my marching orders were issued, was described. It was reported that they had been passed hours after Chief Minister Fadnavis (also the state’s home minister) had taken off for Japan on an official visit, leaving his deputies in the ruling party and in the administration at pains to explain the reasons. This exercise of explanation was led by [KP] Bakshi, Additional Chief Secretary (Home) and turned out to be a series of amusing “flip-flops” for the onlookers, though an agony to me and my family. 

On 8 September [2015], Bakshi described the entire exercise as an “administrative decision” made after “factoring” in the law and order issues to be dealt with by the city police ahead of and during the ten-day Ganesh festival celebrations: “It was an administrative decision and a thought-out process. We have been deliberating about the move for the past three to four weeks. The chief minister signed the file before he left for Japan.” So it was from the media interviews of Bakshi that I learned that the decision to promote or transfer me in this manner was not even a hurried or sudden decision, as it had appeared! It was taken with a great deal of thought and was an outcome of lengthy deliberations at the highest levels. In that case, there was no reason why it should not have been communicated to me in advance! I had asked for a quiet posting. I would have gladly moved out on the given date! 

Bakshi also gave an assurance that the new CP was a very competent officer and as a consequence of which the investigation would not suffer. The new CP also promised that they would be investigating the case in a professional manner and that there was a lot of scope for improvement which they were going to carry out. 

Besides explaining that the sudden move was not so sudden, Bakshi also tried to scotch speculation that there was some link between the transfer and the Sheena Bora murder case. He was reported to have said, “All investigations are important. As far as this case is concerned, most of the probe is complete and the accused are in judicial custody. We are in the process of filing of charge sheet. We cannot stop transfers and promotions for a particular case.” While it may be true that promotions and transfers cannot be halted for a particular case, who gave him to understand that most of the probe was complete was a mystery to me! I wanted the team to collect as much concrete evidence as possible so that I could demit office with the satisfaction that no effort was spared and no time was wasted. 

To allay fears that the investigation would suffer on my exit, Bakshi came up with a solution. “There is no connection between Maria’s transfer and the Sheena Bora murder case probe. He will continue to monitor the probe even after his elevation to the DGP-level and transfer. We have already communicated to him that he will be heading the Sheena Bora murder case,” he told journalists! And I had received no such communication! 

The Pioneer of 9 September commented as follows: 

Given that an ace investigator in Maria had gone headlong into investigating the financial trail involving key accused Indrani and her husband Peter Mukerjea, there was apprehension in certain quarters that the probe might throw up some political names of having been financial links with the once-powerful Mukerjea couple. It is no secret that the Mukerjea couple had come close to several political players when they – as co-founders of INX Media Pvt Ltd, a firm that they set up after Peter quit Star India in 2007, were preparing to launch a host of entertainment and news channels. 

However, in a damage control exercise undertaken in the face of media speculation that the Mumbai CP had been removed because of the apprehension that he might come up with uncomfortable truths in the investigations in the Sheena Bora murder case, the Maharashtra Government sought to allay misconceptions by going to town saying that despite his elevation and transfer, Maria would continue to head the probe in the high-profile murder case.

The investigations by the Mumbai Police should be seen in the context of the investigations launched by Enforcement Directorate is already investigating the alleged foreign exchange violations by the INX Media Pvt Ltd, co-founded by Peter and Indrani Mukerjea in 2007. The alleged violations pertain to the investments raised by INX Media from three Mauritius-based companies. 

Queries from anxious friends and family continued. The media too kept asking for explanations, but I held my silence. No state official had sounded me on any such move, but I was in a quandary. I felt that my taking up such an assignment did not augur well either for upholding the glorious tradition of my force nor for the successful prosecution of the case. My sole objective was to ensure a thorough probe to expose all the perpetrators of the heinous crime, whatever their status in society. 


This is an edited excerpt from Rakesh Maria’s Let Me Say It Now, published by Westland Publications.