Police, Pride and Prejudice: Vengeance of a vindictive State

The dismissal from service of IPS officer S.C. Verma a month before his retirement is of a piece with Gujarat’s recent record

IPS officers (centre) Satish Chandra Verma, (clock wise) Sanjiv Bhatt, Rajnish Rai, Rahul Sharma, and R.B. Sreekumar
IPS officers (centre) Satish Chandra Verma, (clock wise) Sanjiv Bhatt, Rajnish Rai, Rahul Sharma, and R.B. Sreekumar

RK Misra

  • Be frank and fearless, PM tells young civil servants’a newspaper headline

  • In his foreword to ‘The Progressive Maharaja: Sir Madhava Rao’s Hints on the Art and Science of Government’ by Rahul Sagar, PM Modi singles out the need for professionalism in the context of administration and statecraft. He praises Madhava Rao’s emphasis on teamwork and fair play and argues that after selecting officers for capacity, “the minister should treat them with confidence”.

A bunch of Gujarat cadre IPS officers are not impressed with the Prime Minister’s pep talk on professionalism and fair play. And they do have reasons. They have been hounded by governments headed by Narendra Modi and believe they have been treated most unfairly. The latest ‘victim’ of the State’s vengeance, they point out, is Satish Chandra Verma who has been dismissed from service a month before his scheduled retirement on September 30 this year. The Supreme Court this week stayed the dismissal but Verma faces a long, legal battle to regain his post-retirement benefits.

Ironically, the Union ministry of home affairs (MHA) reinstated another IPS officer, Mukesh Gupta, of the Chhattisgarh cadre 15 days before he was due to retire on September 30. Gupta had been under suspension for the past three years.

An IPS officer of the Gujarat cadre, Verma has been posted out of Gujarat—in the North-East and Coimbatore—during the past 10 years or so. Denied promotions and evicted from the government bungalow in Gandhinagar to which he was entitled by virtue of his posting in the North-East, the dismissal came as the unkindest cut from a vindictive government, which seems to have turned a deaf ear to PM’s faith in “professionalism and fair play”.

Verma’s troubles apparently began when the Gujarat High Court included him as a member of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) to inquire into allegations of a fake encounter in which a young woman from Mumbai, Ishrat Jahan, was killed in Ahmedabad with three other people in 2004. They were accused of being Pakistani terrorists who had arrived to assassinate the then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.

The case had already taken a curious turn after Ahmedabad Metropolitan Magistrate S.P. Tamang in a detailed report described the encounter as fake. The case was then investigated by the SIT and thereafter by the CBI on the orders of the Supreme Court. Both the teams confirmed the findings of the Metropolitan Magistrate and recommended arrest and trial of several police officers. The CBI filed a charge sheet but the trial never began because the state government refused sanction for prosecution.

Verma, known as an upright officer, was singled out for retribution by the State after 2014. He was transferred to the North-East as the Chief Vigilance Officer at North Eastern Electric Power Corporation (NEEPC).

In the meanwhile, his family was forced to vacate his official residence in Gandhinagar although he was entitled to it by virtue of being posted to the North-East. Departmental proceedings were also initiated against him, for ‘talking to the media’ among other charges.

Verma moved the Delhi High Court last year against departmental proceedings against him. He was being victimised for his reports and deposition in the Ishrat Jahan case, he pleaded. The Union government informed the court on August 30 that departmental proceedings against Verma had been completed and based on the recommendation, he had been dismissed from the service. Verma has moved the Supreme Court against the high court order of September 7 allowing the government to go ahead with the dismissal after September 19.

Verma is not the only IPS officer in Gujarat being punished by the government. The Gujarat government moved with lightning speed to arrest retired Director General of Police R.B. Sreekumar and former IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt, along with activist Teesta Setalvad, in July after the Supreme Court dismissed a petition by Zakia Jafri, widow of a former MP Ehsan Jafri, to re-open one of the 2002 riot cases. They were accused of having conspired to defame the state of Gujarat and “conspiring to abuse the process of law by fabricating false evidence”. Bhatt, who is already in jail in a case of custodial death dating back to 1990s, was brought out and re-arrested.

Another ex-IPS officer, Rahul Sharma, was also summoned and his statement recorded though for the time being he has not been arrested. Sharma, a 1992 batch IPS officer, took voluntary retirement in 2015 after a decade-long tiff with the state government and is now a lawyer at the Gujarat High Court.

He is being allegedly hounded for providing Call Detail Records (CDR) of the then ministers, officers and other functionaries of the Sangh Parivar during the 2002 Gujarat riots to various enquiry commissions.

When Narendra Modi took over as the chief minister of Gujarat in 2001, he immediately transferred five IAS officers for the perceived sin of being close to his predecessor and patriarch, Keshubhai Patel. Three of them subsequently quit the service. The tone was set. Those who dared to oppose the chief minister or differed with him, were fixed. Among them was DGPs (now retired)Kuldip Sharma and R.B. Sreekumar.

Sharma, who was then the Additional Director General of Police CID had on August 1, 2005 sent a three-page report to the then chief secretary, Sudhir Mankad, recommending CBI inquiry against his own minister, Amit Shah, in a cooperative bank scam. Sharma was immediately shunted out to the nondescript post of Managing Director, Gujarat Sheep and Wool Development Corporation (GSWDC).

Sreekumar was also sidelined and superseded for opposing Gujarat Assembly elections after the 2002 riots, in his report to the then chief election commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh. Sreekumar in his report had stated that the atmosphere was communally charged following the riots and it was not advisable to hold the election. The chief minister Narendra Modi was however keen to go into the election and take advantage of the polarised atmosphere.

Sreekumar was superseded but sought judicial intervention and got back his position and pay, a year after his retirement. As the chief of the state intelligence bureau, he had reported Narendra Modi’s speeches during his 2002 statewide ‘Gaurav Yatra’ as “inflammatory”. Sreekumar was also accused of leaking information to the media and prosecuted, but he challenged the decision and won in courts. Sreekumar had also filed detailed affidavits before the Nanavati Shah judicial inquiry commission probing the riots.

Photo: Getty images
Photo: Getty images

Courts have let down both Bilkis Bano by freeing convicts who had gang-raped her and killed her family members, and Shamima Kausar, who has been fighting to clear the name of her daughter Ishrat Jahan. College student Ishrat and three others, the police had claimed then, were part of a Lashkare-Toiba terror module, out to assassinate chief minister Modi.

The proceedings in the case were dropped in 2019 after the government declined permission to prosecute police officers D.G. Vanzara and N.K. Amin. Earlier in 2018 former Gujarat DGP P.P. Pandey was discharged from the case. Three other police officers indicted by the SIT and the CBI—G.L. Singhal, Tarun Barot and Anju Chaudhary—were discharged in April last year. “It is the duty of the CBI to prosecute all the 11 police officers and men involved,” a heart-broken Shamima Kausar had wailed. But the CBI chose not to file an appeal against the state government’s denial of sanction.

The same administration, which went out of its way to protect the arrested police officers, is now gunning for vengeance against Verma. As a member of the SIT, Verma had filed an affidavit in the high court terming the Ishrat Jahan encounter as fake. Subsequently the case was handed over to the CBI leading to numerous arrests in the case including those of Vanzara and Amin.

Verma and another Gujarat cadre IPS officer, Rajnish Rai, were transferred out of the state within days of Narendra Modi becoming the Prime Minister. Both were known to be fearless and upright. While Verma was shunted out as CVO to NEEPC, Shillong, Rai was posted as CVO in the Uranium Corporation of India Ltd. (UCIL) at Jaduguda, Jharkhand.

Both joined their new posts but not before challenging their transfers in the Central Administrative tribunal (CAT). The two had clearly stated that they were being harassed for doing their jobs diligently which led to the exposure of numerous wrong-doings by officers.

Verma’s 1,100 page petition before the Guwahati bench of CAT states, among other things, that his services as CVO at NEEPC were curtailed as he had red-flagged a Rs 450 crore transportation scam which involved a relative of the then Union MoS (home) Kiren Rijiju, and for investigating a fraudulent land deal in Gujarat.

Rajnish Rai, another bright 1992- batch IPS of the Gujarat cadre fell foul of the establishment in Gujarat when he investigated the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case and arrested fellow DIG D.G. Vanzara and IPS officers Rajkumar Pandian and Dinesh M.N. of the Rajasthan cadre.

It was Rai’s investigation that led to the arrest of former Gujarat home minister, Amit Shah, who is now the all-powerful Union home minister. Shah had to spend a considerable time in Sabarmati jail before he was bailed out. The establishment had sought to implicate Rai for allegedly ‘copying’ while appearing for his law exams and was set to be debarred from practising. But it was a stinging rebuke from the Gujarat High Court that made the university and the government back off.

After Modi came to power at the Centre, not only were all the cases against officers arrested by Rai were dropped, but the arrested officers were rewarded with plum postings while Rai was put in the dock. Transferred to UCIL as CVO, when he pointed out corruption, wastage and lack of adherence to safety norms in the mining and handling of uranium in his report, he was berated by MHA for acting “without due approval from the competent authority”.

Shifted thereafter to the CRPF as IG (Shillong), he was subsequently moved to CRPF’s counter-insurgency and anti-terrorism school (CIAT) in Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh. The reason for the move, sources said, was that he shed light on the extra-judicial killings in Assam’s Chirang district which was reportedly a joint operation by Assam Police, CRPF and the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB).

While no action was taken on his report, an inquiry was instituted on how the news was leaked to the media. On November 30, 2018 Rai sought voluntary retirement (VRS) after completing 50 years of age under the relevant rules. Instead of releasing him from service, he was suspended for “unauthorisedly handing over charge of CIAT” which he received under protest, claiming it was “illegal and unconstitutional” as he had already retired.

Rai subsequently joined the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad as associate professor but the Union HRD ministry issued a show cause notice to IIM-A for employing him. It was only after the high court ordered the state and the Centre to maintain status quo and said that such notices amounted to interference that the authorities backed off. Rai is a B.Tech, PGPPM, PG in Patents Law and has a Ph.D. with 37 publications to his credit.

Rai’s lawyer in the high court is former IPS officer Rahul Sharma, a batchmate. Sharma was the police chief of Bhavnagar during the 2002 riots and was summarily transferred to the police control room, Ahmedabad, after he prevented the rioters from running amok. His analysis of mobile call data had exposed the nexus between rioters and state government officials.

Sharma is also a B.Tech in electrical engineering from IIT-Kanpur besides earning a degree in law.

Another dismissed IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt and ex-IAS officer Pradeep Sharma— both of Gujarat cadre—have also been at the receiving end of the State’s wrath. Their ordeal continues.

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