It’s 2015 and the ‘encounter specialists’ who put an end to the gang wars between 1986 and 2003 are long gone or are maintaining a low profile in the police force.
It’s 2015 and the ‘encounter specialists’ who put an end to the gang wars between 1986 and 2003 are long gone or are maintaining a low profile in the police force. Big names among the encounter specialists like police inspector Pradeep Sharma, Sachin Waze and Ravindra Angare are out of the force. Another big name police sub-inspector Daya Naik, who inspired many moviemakers, is out on suspension. A few years back, senior police inspector of L.T. Marg police Arun Borude died tragically after getting engulfed in a crime case.
Police inspector Vijay Salaskar was martyred among many in the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai in 2008. The other encounter specialists are still serving in various posts in the Mumbai Police but try to stay away from the media. Among them is ACP Prafulla Bhosale who continues to serve the elite crime branch.
The death of gangster Ramabhai Naik in the late 80’s had started a full-fledged gang war between Arun Gawli’s men and D company, belonging to Dawood Ibrahim. Before the 1993 bomb blasts, there were comparatively less encounters of dreaded gangsters like Manya Surve (killed in 1982 by the police), Ramabhai Naik (killed in 1986 in a police encounter) and Maya Dolas (a Dawood man killed in a dramatic encounter in 1991 along with his men at Lokhandwala) and that too, when there was no other option left. Police officer A.A. Khan faced an inquiry for Dolas’s encounter and Isaque Bagwan for Surve’s encounter but nothing came out of it.
Retired assistant commissioner of police, Jaywant Hargude said, “It is not that before 1993 encounters didn’t happen. They did but were carried our rarely and only when no other options were left. But after 1993, a gang war had started and things changed dramatically. The encounter specialists could not end the activities of Dawood and Chhota Rajan but their fear in people was gone.”
After the serial Mumbai blasts in 1993, Rajan and Dawood split and both vied for the other’s life. The extortion business, too, was rampant and killings occurred regularly on Mumbai’s streets, which gave birth to the era of encounter specialists.
A retired ACP requesting anonymity said, “After 1993, encounters became a trend. All those having criminal record were bumped off. The unofficial policy from higher ups was clear. Do not arrest the criminals, shoot them dead.”
“Rajan and Dawood’s business was to extort rich people irrespective of their profession. They were running drugs business as well,” said a serving deputy commissioner of police, Pradeep Sawant. Mr Sawant also corroborated the fact that 421 persons were killed on Mumbai’s streets in the 1990-2000 period during the gang war that took place in the city. The victims were mostly men from the gangs of Rajan, Dawood and Arun Gawli, Mr Sawant said. This also included those who did not pay extortion money to these gangs. In retaliation, around 400 encounters had taken place in this period.
Former deputy chief minister Gopinath Munde had publicly endorsed encounter killings. A reliable source said, “Large scale encounters began after 1995. Police could do it because of strong backing by the politicians who believed or were made to believe that encounters were necessary to restore order.” On the other hand, the People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), moved the Bombay high court demanding inquiry into the 68 encounters which the police claimed had taken place between 1995-1997.
A retired doctor who had conducted post mortems in encounter cases in Mumbai requesting anonymity said, “In the mid 1990’s an encounter specialist had come to the post mortem centre asking for a favourable report and in return offering bribe. But the deceased was shot from close range. I asked the officer to leave the premises and filed a fair report. We hated each other. But the officer later passed away and the trail went cold.” Another doctor requesting anonymity said, “We didn’t want to take pangas (fights) with the encounter specialists. My colleague used to do the post mortem and I used to quietly sign it.”
Mr Hargude, the retired assistant commissioner of police, said the crime branch used to receive tip offs from rival gangs and used the information to eliminate gangs.
“One got tip offs from Rajan and another from Shakeel,” said a senior crime journalist, who has documented books on underworld requesting anonymity. “A couple of big names in the encounter specialists squad made a lot of money when they were in Anti-Narcotics cell,” he added,
Daya Naik, the renowned encounter specialist, worked as a waiter in a Mumbai hotel even as he studied on the side and entered the police force as a sub-inspector in 1996. While Mr Naik worked under inspector Pradeep Sharma, there was another group of encounter specialists that worked under the late Vijay Salaskar.
Salaskar was known for being a ‘one man show’ with not many star encounter specialists working under him, but Mr Sharma had the likes of Nayak, Sachin Waze, Sanjiv Gawde and the late Arun Borude under him. Mr Sharma did not kill the gangsters on his own but worked as a unit with Mr Nayak and Mr Waze. The trio shares credit in the 90 odd killings attributed to Mr Sharma’s name. Both Mr Naik and Mr Sharma refused to take our phone calls and did not reply to our text messages.
“Only Prafulla Bhosale had a clean image, most of the rest were tarnished. He remained neutral and didn’t join any of the groups. Even Bhosale’s name was dragged in the Khwaja Yunus custodial death case but he came out clean as he was innocent,” said the senior journalist. Mr Bhosale is said to have killed 70 gangsters from all the gangs.
Mr Sharma received tip offs and killed many men from Dawood’s gang like in the encounter of Sadiq Kalya in 1991, who was a close aide of Dawood. He also killed Rajan gang member Vinod Matkar. Sharma who has admitted he has killed over 92 gangsters, has been quoted as saying, “I am like a World Cup for mafia gangs. Each one of them, wants me dead.” Defending his killing spree, Mr Sharma had once said, “They fired at me. I fired in self-defense. They had weapons. Obviously, they were not going to the temple.”
Trouble started for Mr Sharma in the Khwaja Younis custodial death of January 2003. Following a Bombay HC order then commissioner A.N. Roy transferred him to Amravati in 2007. The Lakhan Bhaiya encounter killing in 2006 became the bane for Mr Sharma. He was arrested and tried in the case along with 20 odd policemen. Though each of them was convicted, Sharma was acquitted in 2013 by a sessions court. He has not rejoined the police force, though.
His protégé Mr Naik has admitted killing 83 gangsters in less than 10 years of service. Mr Naik and Mr Sharma worked like brothers but things changed after 2003. They hated each other over professional reasons, said police sources.
Mr Naik ran into controversy for building a school in his mother’s name in his hometown in Karnataka, whose inauguration was attended by bollywood stars Amitabh Bachchan and Sanjay Dutt along with many politicians. Mr Naik claimed the money to build the school came from donations. Around 2003, an inquiry was slapped against him for accepting bribes from the underworld and amassing disproportionate assets.
Mr Naik told the media that his colleagues had grown jealous of him and a nexus of police-underworld was behind them. A few years ago, Mr Naik came out clean after the inquiry and was reinstated in 2012. He was posted in the local arms unit at Naigaon and then in the western suburbs from where he had started his career in 1996. But he was transferred soon after and posted in rural Maharashtra. Mr Naik was again suspended this year for not reporting to duty in Nagpur.
Vijay Salakar, said DCP Mr Sawant, was among the frontrunners in eliminating the Arun Gawli gang. Gawli is said to have feared Salaskar the most. However, when asked if anyone can be credited with eliminating the gangs in particular, Mr Sawant said, “No. It was only due to efforts of the Mumbai Crime Branch.” Salaskar was credited with 70 odd encounters and was martyred in the 26/11 attacks. He won bravery awards posthumously.