State government thwarts attempts to seize control of Cyber unit: Deshmukh

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State Home Minister Anil Deshmukh on Friday revealed that a “lobby of three very senior police officers” has for months been trying to get the Maharashtra Cyber unit shifted from the government’s control to the Director General of Police, but in vain.

Speaking to The Hindu, Mr. Deshmukh, who assumed office on January 7, confirmed reports of a silent but strong struggle by the Indian Police Service (IPS) lobby to seize control of the unit being recognised nationally for its achievements.

Since the establishment of the Cyber unit, it has been reporting to the State Home Department despite being headed by police officers. The Home Minister said that attempts to bring the unit under the Maharashtra DGP’s aegis have been afoot even before the Uddhav Thackeray government assumed office.

“The attempts didn’t work under the previous government and we did not allow them to work under ours either. A lobby of three very senior officers was trying to do this. We were approached immediately after we assumed office but I brought it to the CM’s attention that this had been tried twice during the previous government’s tenure as well. At one point, it became something of a joke, with the officers asking me about it every time they crossed paths with me,” Mr. Deshmukh said.

He further said a sneaky attempt was made in the first week of January, just before the Cabinet expansion.

“Eknath Shinde was the Home Minister before the expansion and I was appointed to the post on January 7. On January 6, these three senior officers signed the proposal and tried to get it approved by Mr. Shinde. I later pointed out to the CM how fast our administration could move if it had to, if three senior officers could sign a file in a single day,” Mr. Deshmukh said.

Sources in the IPS cadre told The Hindu that the power struggle that started for no apparent reason has caused a rift within the ranks of senior police officers. While one camp is trying to push the agenda of transferring the unit to the DGP’s control at every meeting and conference, the other camp has been asking why it was deemed necessary to fix something that wasn’t broken.

“Things got so bad that a senior officer even said at a meeting that all cyber police stations in the State should be shut down. It was not an on-the-record remark and made within the earshot of only a few, but it shocked everyone who heard it nevertheless,” a source said.

The Home Minister reiterated that the unit would continue to report to the Home Department. “The Maharashtra Cyber unit has been doing some stellar work and is among the best agencies in the field of cyber crimes in the country. The unit has taken action against offenders in various offences and brought to light some shocking statistics in connection with child pornography through Operation Blackface,” he said.

Established by the State government as a dedicated agency to tackle the menace of cyber crimes and digital threats, the Cyber unit has also spearheaded the development of digital projects aimed at ushering the police force into the digital age. Since its inception, the unit has launched several projects, including the recent Operation Blackface — a State-wide crackdown on child pornography, which was never addressed on a such a large scale before.

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