Gujarat’s first woman IPS officer Geetha Johri made her name through daring work, but controversies never left her.
Early this month, Geetha Johri, 59, was appointed Gujarat’s director general of police. The assignment is high-profile, but short-lived. Ms Johri is slated to retire on November 30.
This appointment, as Gujarat’s top cop, can be seen as a simple matter of routine procedure, since she had the seniority. Or, it could be read as the last chapter in the story of an honourable cop who went from exemplary integrity and daredevilry to buckling under intense pressure.
As Gujarat’s first woman IPS officer, Ms Johri famously defied pressures from her seniors and politicians to raid a don’s den, investigated and ensured the arrest of her peers and seniors in fake encounter cases, but eventually refused to identify some of those accused of staged killings.
In her 35-year-long career, Ms Johri went from being a deified cop, a household name to a pariah in her karmabhoomi, Gujarat.
So her reinstatement and honourable exit from the service could also be read as a message to cops who go above and beyond their call of duty: That there is a Lakshman Rekha which must not be crossed. And when crossed, it’s best to beat a humiliating retreat in public.
The message is simply a reminder of the oath police officers take in India — to honour esprit de corps.
The Famous raid
Ms Johri, who began her career in Ahmedabad in 1982, had acquired the epithet of super-cop by 1994, the year she, and two junior officers, arrived in three autorickshaws in Daryapur, the stronghold of gangster Abdul Latif, and caught his right-hand man, Sharief Khan.
Ms Johri could have died that day. Khan tried to shoot her, point blank. But his pistol jammed. Latif, on whose life Bollywood movie Raees is based, managed to escape, but was arrested in 1995 and killed in an alleged encounter three years later.
The same year when Ms Johri, as Gandhinagar DIG, annoyed top politicians in connection with the investigation of a case, and was shunted to Vadodara police training academy.
It was also the year she received the police medal for meritorious service.
In 2006, the Supreme Court appointed Ms Johri, then on a low-profile assignment with CID (crime), to probe the alleged fake encounter killings of gangster Sohrabuddin Sheikh (2005) and his associate, Tulsiram Prajapati (2006).
Her investigations into the case and the disappearance of his wife Kausar Bi sent a clutch of top police officers to jail for the fake encounters. Among the 13 police officers arrested in 2007 were D.G. Vanzara and Rajkumar Pandian.
“She was instrumental in revealing that Sohrabuddin’s wife Kauser Bi was also killed to cover up his encounter that eventually led to the arrest of several top police officers. It was unprecedented,” one of her junior colleagues said.
The then Gujarat home minister, Amit Shah, was also an accused in the Sohrabuddin case.
“The first phase of her investigations was awe-inspiring. She showed exemplary courage. She officially complained to her senior about political interference,” the officer said.
But soon, the investigations started falling apart. In 2008, Ms Johri submitted her last report to the Supreme Court, backtracking on most of her findings. The apex court ticked her off, and the cases were handed over to the CBI.
The agency investigated Ms Johri and chargesheeted her for destruction of evidence.
In 2010, Ms Johri claimed that false allegations had been levelled against her for refusing to toe the CBI’s line. She alleged that the agency was “pressuring her to falsely implicate the former Gujarat minister, Amit Shah”.
Mr Shah was discharged in 2014. And in 2015, a special CBI court in Mumbai dropped the charges against her for want of Gujarat government’s mandatory sanction for her prosecution.
The architects of chakravyuh always keep an exit. On April 4, 2017, someone led Ms Johri to the exit and she became the first woman DGP in PM Narendra Modi’s home state, replacing P.P. Pandey.
Mr Pandey, an accused in the 2004 fake encounter case of 19-year-old Ishrat Jahan and three others, was out on bail at the time of his appointment. He resigned fearing an adverse order from the Supreme Court, which is hearing former DGP Julio Ribeiro’s PIL against his appointment and extension.
Ms Johri, a 1982 batch officer, is also an accomplished badminton player. She’s spent her career, in Gujarat and on the badminton court, pushing opponents to the edge with stunning rallies, yelps and fist pumps.
It is said that she was smashed by the investigation her husband Anil Johri, an Indian Forest Service officer, was facing. Mr Johri was charged with corruption and violation of the Official Secrets Act by the state government following a raid in 2000.
In 2010, the state government issued formal orders exonerating Mr Johri and he was promoted as chief conservator of forests. Ms Johri too was promoted as additional DGP and posted as Rajkot commissioner.