Dreaded group

Print edition : August 27, 2010

DIG D.G. Vanzara (centre), S.P. Rajkumar Pandiyan (left) and Dinesh Kumar, IPS officer from Rajasthan (right), outside a court in Ahmedabad in April 2007.-PTI DIG D.G. Vanzara (centre), S.P. Rajkumar Pandiyan (left) and Dinesh Kumar, IPS officer from Rajasthan (right), outside a court in Ahmedabad in April 2007.

The CBI investigation has exposed a small group of officers who, it is alleged, planned, executed and benefited from illegal activities.

ON May 18, when arrested Deputy Superintendant of Police (DSP) Narendra Kumar Amin told a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court that a police-politician-criminal nexus was in operation in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh case, he opened a can of worms. What he said was not new, but the statement, made in a court, gave it the stamp of authority. The gist of the story is that Amit Shah, former Minister of State for Home in Gujarat, ran an extortion racket with the help of some police officers, primarily Amin, Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Dhananjay G. Vanzara, and Deputy Commissioner of Police Abhay Chudasama of the Crime Branch, and an extortionist called Sohrabuddin Sheikh.

R.B. Sreekumar, former Additional Director General of Police, Intelligence, explained why the politician-police nexus, known to exist in some form all over India, had assumed dangerous proportions in Gujarat: It is about two things maintaining the status quo for the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] and making money.

Mukul Sinha, senior advocate and human rights activist who is fighting the Sohrabuddin case, said that the political control of the police was part of a plan that was put into action immediately after the Narendra Modi government was re-elected in December 2002. The Crime Branch was reorganised and Vanzara was brought in as DIG. Soon after, the Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) was created, and Vanzara was put in charge, while Amin handled the Crime Branch. Thus, two crucial divisions of the police were in total control of the government. This resulted in a polarised administration with rewards for those who obeyed and punishments for those who did not.

Sreekumar is the most well-known example of an officer at the receiving end of political vengeance. He recalls how on the day of the infamous rath yatra in July 2002, Vanzara made a dramatic haul of country-made weapons from the Daryapur area of Ahmedabad. Sreekumar, who was then ADGP, Intelligence, says that his intelligence network had told him that the weapons had come from a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP)-supported factory in Sabarkantha. The factory owner had sent the weapons to the Crime Branch, which was headed by Vanzara, who used them to set up various businessmen and thus extort money from them.

That, said Sreekumar, was done without any religious bias: Hindus, Muslims money was extorted from both. When Sreekumar reported this to the Commissioner of Police, Ahmedabad, he was issued a memo questioning how he dared make such an allegation when the Chief Minister's office had rewarded Vanzara for his work in unearthing the weapons. Sreekumar's was the only official report against Vanzara until his arrest.

Several officers paid a price for refusing to carry out illegal orders. In 2002 in Bharuch, Superintendent of Police (S.P.) M.D. Antani restrained rioters and, for this, was posted to a dead-end job in Narmada district. His career could not be rescued and he is now a passport officer in Ahmedabad.

DCP Abhay Chudasama, who allegedly planted a gun on Sohrabuddin, on his way to a CBI court on August 4.-PTI

In Banaskantha, Himanshu Bhatt, the S.P., came upon a mob led by a local sub-inspector of police brandishing a sword. Bhatt suspended him and the very next day received an order transferring him to the Intelligence branch an unimportant posting for a young officer like him. Currently out of the country on a sabbatical, he is not likely to return soon. The sub-inspector was reinstated in the same police station.

In Kutch, the S.P. Vivek Shrivastava found a Home Guards commander participating in rioting but received instructions forbidding his arrest. Shrivastava ignored the command and was promptly transferred to an unimportant post in the Home Guards.

Bhavnagar S.P. Rahul Sharma overheard on the wireless that a mob was going to attack a madrassa-cum-orphanage. He reached the spot with a strike force and commanded the mob to stop. The mob leaders screamed back that they had already informed the control room of their plans. Sharma repeated his command and the leaders asked whether he would fire on Hindus. He replied by giving the order to fire. Five people from the mob were killed, but the children in the madrassa-cum-orphanage were saved and there was no more rioting in Bhavnagar.

For doing his duty Sharma was posted to the Ahmedabad city control room a post meant for the rank of inspector. Sharma later filed an affidavit before the Nanavati Commission, and his work in collating phone calls created valuable evidence. Even after the riots Sharma was harassed. His further punishment was a posting as Special Reserve Police Commandant in South Surat.

In one case, a brave testimony by one of the eyewitnesses resulted in former Minister Maya Kodnani of the Bharatiya Janata Party being charge-sheeted (she is now on bail).

In Gujarat, only State cadre officers are appointed to positions of power. These are people who have their roots in Gujarat where many are communally motivated, explained Sreekumar. All three of the officers who have now been arrested are from the Gujarat Police Service.

N.K. Amin, another accused, after appearing in the CBI court.-PTI

Mukul Sinha sums it up thus: There was a group of policemen who have almost been chosen and brought together they are not politicised as we understand the word but they are there to create an official guise for an illegal cause they are secret, ruthless and diabolic. The group members were willing to do anything and they were given legal protection on condition that they do whatever is asked.

The CBI's investigation into the killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh has exposed the small group of officers who, it says, planned, executed and benefited from illegal activities. The chief among them, Amin, Vanzara and Chudasama, are in custody awaiting trial.

D.G. Vanzara

Vanzara, who started coming into the limelight from the early 2000s as head of the Crime Branch, Ahmedabad, belongs to the 1987 batch of the State cadre. At the time of the Sohrabuddin encounter, he headed the Gujarat ATS, leading a group of encounter specialists who were celebrated as heroes.

After his arrest, the encounters that took place before Sohrabuddin's killing also began to be questioned Samir Khan's murder in Usmanpura, Ahmedabad in 2002; Sadiq Jamal's encounter-style death in 2003; the June 2004 killing of Ishrat Jahan and three other people; and the December 2006 shooting in Banaskantha of Tulsi Prajapati, Sohrabuddin's accomplice. Vanzara's jurisdiction did not extend to Banaskantha, but two weeks before Prajapati was killed Vanzara was transferred as DIG, Border Range, in that district.

After every killing, Vanzara would hold a press conference where he would say that a dreaded terrorist had been killed and that once again the ATS had saved Narendra Modi from an assassin and salvaged Gujarat's pride.

Arrested by the CID in April 2007, Vanzara has objected to his former colleague Amin's application to turn approver. In Sabarmati jail, the two men attacked each other with cricket bats.

N.K. Amin

Amin, who has been in custody for 29 months, was a doctor before he joined the police. The gold medal he won in his MBBS examination was a matter of special pride for him. He belongs to a Scheduled Caste. In 1996, he joined the police force as a Deputy Superintendent of Police.

In 2000, when Amin was posted in Valsad district, he reportedly participated in the beating of retired Army Colonel Pratap Save, who was leading a protest rally against a proposed port in Umergam village. Amin reportedly used his knowledge of the human anatomy to inflict blows that resulted in fatal cranial haemorrhaging.

In 2002, Amin, then posted in the State Intelligence Bureau, claimed that he had exposed a Students Islamic Movement of India network in Surat; 121 alleged SIMI activists were caught and all were convicted. He was also part of the team that shot dead Ishrat Jahan and Javed Sheikh in 2004. He was closely associated with the police team that went to Hyderabad to arrest Maulana Nasiruddin, an alleged Lashkar-e-Taiba operative who was accused of planning terror attacks in Gujarat and charged in connection with the murder of former Minister Haren Pandya. When some of the people accompanying the maulana to the police station protested against the arrest, Amin opened fire, killing a 20-year-old man.

Amin survived the many controversies in his career reportedly because of his closeness to Amit Shah. His past finally caught up with him on February 22, 2008, when he was arrested. He has now filed an application to turn approver, causing panic among some of his colleagues. He claims to possess CDs containing sensitive information.

Abhay Chudasama

Abhay Chudasama, a 1999 batch Gujarat Police Service officer, liked to flaunt branded clothes and sunglasses. Like Vanzara, he came to public notice after moving to the Ahmedabad Crime Branch. But he was moved out after a short stint, in 2002, when his actions in the post-Godhra riots came under the scanner. He had a posting in the CID (Intelligence) in 2003 where he was on special deputation for investigations into Haren Pandya's murder.

He had a stint in the ATS and was then moved to Valsad district, where he gained notoriety by allegedly killing seven men in two years. His next posting was to the Ahmedabad Crime Branch as a Deputy Commissioner of Police. A year before he was arrested in connection with the Sohrabuddin Sheikh case on April 28, 2010, he shot dead a small-time history-sheeter.

He was DCP (Crime) in Ahmedabad at the time of his arrest. He had allegedly planted a gun on Sohrabuddin to add meat to the story that Sohrabuddin was armed to kill Narendra Modi.

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