Maharashtra sacks ‘encounter specialist’ Pradeep Sharma

August 31st, 2008 - 8:08 pm ICT by IANS  

Mumbai, Aug 31 (IANS) The Maharashtra government Sunday sacked Mumbai police inspector Pradeep Sharma, who came to be called the king of “encounter specialists” for gunning down 112 criminals, on charges of keeping links with the very underworld he was supposed to be battling.In an unexpected move, the government invoked section 311 of the Indian constitution and dismissed Sharma, 46, capping months of departmental action that included suspension for prolonged periods, departmental inquiries, and a transfer to a far away district he declined to accept on health grounds.

Posted at the Dharavi police station the past few months, a disappointed Sharma told reporters outside his Andheri East residence that he was “innocent” and he would challenge the dismissal in the court.

Among other things, he has been accused of allegedly keeping links with the underworld whose operatives he regularly silenced with his bullets and of amassing wealth through questionable means.

Over the past few years, Sharma, who was featured in a Time magazine interview, has vehemently denied all charges against him. He would often say: “Mumbai underworld is like a gutter. It is we people who clean it up.”

The ‘clean up’ included big names like Sadiq Kalia (mafia don Dawood Ibrahim), Kamlakar Satavdekar and Vinod Matkar (Chhota Rajan gang) as well as Rafik Dabbawala of the Subhash Thakur gang.

Earlier this year, Shiv Sena’s Ramdas Kadam, who heads the opposition in the state assembly, had raised the issue of Sharma and other “encounter specialists” in the legislature. On Sunday, he hailed Sharma’s dismissal.

Sharma’s battle with the crime world came under a cloud in 2002 when he was linked to the disappearance of an accused in the Ghatkopar bomb blasts case, Khwaja Yunus. He emerged unscathed from that matter.

Son of a college professor from Dhule in northern Maharashtra, Sharma is one among a long list of police heroes who have fallen from public grace.

The list includes former city police commissioner R.S. Sharma, former joint police commissioner (crime) S.S. Wagal and former deputy commissioner of police (crime) Pradeep Sawant.

Apart from Sharma, the other policemen prepared to gun down criminals were Daya Nayak, Ravindra Angre, Praful Bhosale, Raju Pillai, Vijay Salaskar, Shivaji Kolekar, Sachin Vaze and Sanjay Kadam.

Each had “double-digit encounter killings” to their credit.

After every ‘encounter’ killing — which critics said were stage managed — of a gangster on Mumbai’s streets, the police would give out a standard story: “Following a tip-off, we laid a trap for the criminal/s. We ordered him/them to surrender, but he/they opened fire. We retaliated and he/they were eliminated.”

Their exploits and stories were the subject matter of Bollywood films, including one which was practically dedicated to the “encounter specialists” - “Ab Tak Chhappan.”

Though mostly lower-rung functionaries, many of them zipped around the city and surrounding areas in a cavalcade of vehicles, with dozens of gun-wielding police personnel guarding them round-the-clock.

Some of them would often take pride in displaying their prized weapons of destruction - AK-47 or .38 or .22 revolvers - with which they took on the underworld.

“These weapons are necessary, they (underworld) have better arms and they always come armed. If they point a gun at me, should I not defend myself?” Sharma once asked this reporter.

Over the past 18 years or so, an estimated 400 criminals have been killed in ‘encounters’ with the police.

The controversial killings did curb crime. Daylight gangland killings on Mumbai’s roads became a thing of the past. Extortion calls and attacks on industrialists, builders and Bollywood personalities became history.

The “encounter specialists” claimed credit for making this possible. But that never halted the persistent allegations against them that some — if not all — of their victims were being killed in cold blood.

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