Convinced that the Maharashtra police in general and the Mumbai police in particular would not be able to investigate the sensational Sheena Bora murder case impartially, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has taken a well considered decision to hand over the probe to the Central Bureau of Investigation. However, sceptics in the Maharashtra police believe that the transfer of the case at this late stage could effectively mean that the murder may now get a hushed burial and the prospects of main accused Indrani Mukerjea getting acquitted during the trial stage along with her co-conspirators have improved.
Taken by surprise with the announcement, senior police officials tried to play down the issue, although former Mumbai police commissioner M.N. Singh hit out at the government's inept handling of the matter and described it as one of the many blunders the administration had made since the transfer of Rakesh Maria, 11 days ago. However, a CBI officer, on the condition of anonymity, said that the case had myriad convoluted angles and thus involved inter-state investigations including an unexplained money trail. There was no option left for the state government but to transfer the matter to a Central and neutral agency, given that Maharashtra police was apparently involved in the initial cover up.
The CBI, when it takes over the probe, will certainly face a number of problems, the foremost being energetic, active and hands-on support of officers of the Mumbai police who were dealing with the case so far. In addition to examining in detail the forensic evidence obtained until now, the CBI would like to review the entire investigation, despite this being done under the overall supervision of former commissioner Rakesh Maria. There are allegations that certain elementary steps were not taken at the initial stages, as a result of which the motive of the crime is still most nebulous. In this particular murder, the motive would have to be strong enough for a mother to conspire and plan the murder of her daughter and therefore the financial angle does not hold any water.
Another huge impediment for the CBI would be to question Indrani Mukerjea and her co-conspirators as they are already in judicial custody on the expiry of the permitted police remand of 14 days. The CBI would have to, therefore, seek the permission of the court to interrogate them in jail, which as an obvious corollary is definitely not the same thing as examining the accused persons in police custody. A former CBI official said that in all probability, the CBI would register a case under some other section in a separate FIR against the accused persons and seek their police remand to question them. If the police remand in a different case is provided by the court, it would be used also to interrogate them in connection with the Sheena Bora case.
Several retired and senior police officials are of the view that the Mumbai police had indeed bungled in the case and would have found it very difficult to secure Indrani's conviction given that proper procedures in going through routine investigations were not followed adequately from the very commencement. For instance, the process for Nishan Dehi (re-enactment of the events leading to the crime and disposal of the body) was not strictly adhered to. This is an important factor under the Evidence Act, since sequential identification of the various spots by the accused is admissible in court. In this instance, it seems, that the revealing narrations were pinpointed solely by the driver Shyam Rai and not by Indrani, which gives her a strong defence in the court.
The first task before the CBI, once it gets to question the accused and lays its hands on their statements, would be to ascertain the motive. The case would, therefore, have to be perhaps divided into two parts. The first part would purely deal with murder investigations and the role of various people in its commissioning and cover up. In pursuance of this aspect, the CBI may also examine some top officials of the Maharashtra police, as well as Indrani's husband Peter Mukerjea, former CEO of Star TV. While the Mumbai police was accused of being soft on Peter, the CBI may pull out all stops and question him at length and in custody as well, if the need arises. The detectives may work on the hypothesis that Peter knew more than what he had divulged to the police and therefore to ensure that he was not part of the cover up or had any role in the murder, he would have to be subjected to sustained grilling.
The second part of the investigations would deal with the alleged money trail and various aspects of financial irregularities, if any. This aspect would have to be independently followed by the CBI and concerned agencies such as the Enforcement Directorate, and it would have to be ascertained beyond any doubt whether these dealings had anything to do with the murder. Many police officials have found it difficult to digest the connection between Peter and Indrani's financial transactions and the murder and seem to be of the view that it could be diversionary tactics to conceal the real truth about the motive. The motive could have something to do with interpersonal relationships of those involved in the crime and its cover-up.
The CBI could also examine whether any money exchanged hands between the prime accused and some officials of the Maharashtra and Mumbai police in helping in the initial cover-up. The CBI would more than attempt to find out why no case was registered at Raigad when the body was discovered and why the Mumbai police backed off in registering a "missing person report" when Peter Mukerjea's son Rahul went to lodge a complaint about Sheena's mysterious disappearance, three years ago.
Knowledgeable sources said the fact that Mumbai police commissioner Ahmed Javed socially knew both Peter and Indrani was not a reason good enough to infer that he had a conflict of interest in the case. Both Peter and Indrani knew multiple people very closely and as a professional police officer, Javed would always know where to draw the line. However, the decision of the Maharashtra government to appoint him in Rakesh Maria's place and then entrust the monitoring of the investigations to Maria in his capacity as DG, Home Guards showed the authorities in dim light. Another decision of getting a probe conducted by a junior officer against his senior in Raigad was also against the accepted protocol of the police.
The CBI would also explore the option of making one of the accused persons as an approver to secure the conviction of all the suspects. So far, only three persons have been formally arrested and the approver, therefore, would have to be either Shyam Rai, the driver, or Sanjeev Khanna, Indrani's second husband, unless more arrests are subsequently made. The approver angle assumes enormous significance, since there is little forensic evidence that would be on hand to tighten the case.
An attempt is also being made in some quarters to liken the Sheena Bora case to the Aarushi slaying in Noida some years ago. From the criminal investigation point of view, no parallels can be drawn since Sheena's killing was the result of a pre-mediated and well thought through conspiracy, while Aarushi's murder was the consequence of an impulsive action.
The CBI probe, if conducted in all sincerity, in the Sheena Bora mystery would certainly lead to many skeletons tumbling out of the cupboard and thus expose many powerful people in the upper echelons of society.