The curious case of Parambir Singh

Print edition : November 19, 2021

Parambir Singh talking to media after taking charge as Police Commissioner of Mumbai at the police headquarter on July 28, 2020. Photo: the hindu archives

Sachin Vaze arrives at the Police Commissioner’s office in Mumbai on March 10. He was arrested on March 13 on the charge of plotting the ‘bomb scare operation’ outside Mukesh Ambani’s residence. Photo: PTI

NIA officials with Sachin Vaze, accused in the Mansukh Hiren murder case during investigation at the Thane Mumbra creek in Thane on March 25. Photo: PTI

The former Mumbai Police Commissioner, who is alleged to be complicit in several extortion and corruption cases, has remained untraceable since May.

Parambir Singh, former Mumbai Police Commissioner who is facing extortion and alleged homicide charges, seems to have vanished into thin air. The National Investigation Agency (NIA), the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Mumbai Police are unable to locate him. So the question arises: who is protecting him?

Parambir Singh was the Police Commissioner when the “bomb scare” incident outside the industrialist Mukesh Ambani’s house took place on February 25. Assistant Police Inspector Sachin Vaze was arrested on March 13 on the charge of plotting the operation to park an explosives-laden SUV outside Ambani’s residence and for the murder of Mansukh Hiren, the owner of the vehicle. Vaze was dismissed from service and Parambir Singh, to whom Vaze reported, was transferred to the Home Guards as Director General of Police. It had been speculated that Parambir Singh was involved in a cover-up of the case or was even involved in the incident. Following his transfer, Parambir Singh wrote to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray accusing Home Minister Anil Deshmukh of extortion. He alleged that Deshmukh would set a monthly extortion target of Rs.100 crore, which police officials were told to collect from hoteliers and restaurant owners in Mumbai.

A few weeks after he made this allegation, first information reports (FIRs) were filed against Parambir Singh in cases involving extortion and corruption. At last count, he had five FIRs against him, which includes a case under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, and he found himself in the “most wanted” list in Maharashtra. Additionally, the State Anti-Corruption Bureau has initiated two inquiries against him. Clearly, Parambir Singh’s strategy of taking on the establishment backfired. He claimed that he was being made a scapegoat in a larger plan. He approached the Supreme Court seeking a transfer of all the cases against him to an independent agency outside Maharashtra. But the court did not oblige.

In the first FIR, which was filed in April, Inspector B.R. Ghadge accused Parambir Singh of harassing and falsely implicating him in an extortion case when he refused to comply with his corrupt schemes. Ghadge brought charges under the S.C./S.T. Act. On July 22, Parambir Singh, five police personnel and two civilians were charged with demanding Rs.15 crore from a Mumbai builder. A day later, another case of extortion was registered against him by the Kopri Police Station in Thane.

Also read: High-voltage drama rocks Maharashtra government following the arrest of policeman

On July 30, the Thane Nagar police station registered a third extortion case against Parambir Singh and 27 others on a complaint filed by businessmen Ketan Tanna and Sonu Jalan on July 29. Ketan Tanna alleged that Parambir Singh and his colleague Pradeep Sharma, currently in jail, threatened to frame him in an extortion case and took Rs.1.25 crore from him. Sonu Jalan alleged that he was presented with a similar fait accompli. To save himself, he claimed, he had given Parambir Singh and others over Rs.3 crore in recent years. The two businessmen said Parambir Singh led the extortion racket when he was Thane Police Commissioner in 2018. On August 20, a fourth FIR on extortion was filed against Parambir Singh by Bimal Agarwal, a hotelier. The complainant alleged that Parambir Singh took Rs.9 lakh from him to prevent a raid on his bars and restaurants. An additional sum of Rs.2.5 lakh, he said, was extorted to buy smartphones.

On the run?

According to police sources, Parambir Singh took leave of absence from work on May 5 and has not been seen since. Intelligence agents checked his properties in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Chandigarh, but could not trace him. The Thane Police issued a Look Out Notice against Parambir Singh in July. Home Minister Dilip Walse Patil confirmed this in early October. He did not rule out the possibility of Parambir Singh having fled the country. He told mediapersons that there was unconfirmed information that he was in Russia. Every government employee is expected to notify the External Affairs Ministry when he/she leaves the country. A person with a Look Out Notice against him or her cannot pass immigration at any airport. “Even if Parambir Singh managed to get out before the Thane police issued the notice, the government’s stipulation on foreign travel must be complied with,” said a police source.

In May, during the hearings in the atrocities case, the Maharashtra government told the Bombay High Court that it would not take coercive action against Parambir Singh. In spite of that assurance, he did not appear in court. In October, following a statement by his lawyer that until the police official was declared legally absconding, the government would have to uphold its assurance of no coercive action, the State legal team said it would no longer stand by the statement of not taking any coercive action against Parambir Singh, including arrest.

On October 25, the Maharashtra government said it was in the process of legally declaring Parambir Singh an absconder. There are serious consequences when someone is declared legally absconding. The Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) provides that “if any court has reason to believe that any person against whom a warrant has been issued by it has absconded to avoid the execution of such warrant, the court may publish a written proclamation for his appearance”. Section 83 of the CrPC gives power to the court, at any time after the issue of the proclamation, to order the attachment of any property, movable or immovable or both, belonging to the person who has been proclaimed absconding.

In a twist to the plot, a lawyer called Mahesh Panchal filed an affidavit with the Justice K.U. Chandiwal Commission, which came to light on October 25, on behalf of Parambir Singh, whose power of attorney he claimed to hold. In the affidavit he said Parambir Singh was facing a “personal difficulty” and was not prepared to be cross-examined. The State government formed the one-member commission in March to probe the Anil Deshmukh-Parambir Singh case. It issued a bailable warrant but Parambir Singh ignored the commission’s summons. The sudden appearance of Mahesh Panchal on the scene makes investigators believe that Parambir Singh may still be in the country.

Although the country’s top investigating agencies are on his tail, Parambir Singh remains untraceable. The NIA, for instance, in March took over one aspect of the bomb scare case and Parambir Singh’s involvement in it when a cyber expert with the Mumbai Police accused Parambir Singh of coercing him to modify a report and create a poster of a militant organisation called the ‘Jaish-ul-Hind’, who the police said had claimed responsibility for placing a car laden with gelatin sticks near the Ambani residence. The poster, along with a statement, was posted on Telegram, a communication application.

Following the extortion allegations made against him by Parambir Singh, Anil Deshmukh was forced to resign as Home Minister. The CBI booked him under sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) relating to criminal conspiracy and under the Prevention of Corruption Act. While, Anil Deshmukh has been available for interrogation, Parambir Singh was unavailable to depose before the agency.

Also read: Mumbai bomb scare case has shifted to one about allegations of corruption against politicians and police officers

The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar recently commented in the media that the ruling dispensation at the Centre was misusing government agencies to target opposition-ruled States. “This is part of a ruthless pursuit of destabilising the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi coalition government. It is a matter of great concern that a commissioner level officer is untraceable,” he said. Nawab Malik, NCP leader, accused the NIA of shielding Parambir Singh, saying it was impossible that it could not to find him.

Meanwhile, in a report to the Chandiwal Commission in early October, the State Criminal Investigation Department (CID) stated: “The team made relentless efforts, but failed to trace Parambir Singh, as a result the bailable warrant could not be served.” In July, the E.D. had summoned Parambir Singh in the extortion case, in which the cop accused Anil Deshmukh of laundering money. At the time, Parambir Singh had asked for more time citing a medical emergency. The Mumbai Police force, which can weed out the wiliest criminal, is embarrassingly silent about its efforts to search for Parambir Singh. The police told the court in the extortion case involving Bimal Agarwal that crime branch officers had travelled to Chandigarh and other possible hideouts of Parambir Singh but could not find him. None of his family members too could be reached.

Police Reforms

The Parambir Singh case has revived the calls for police reforms. Julio Rebeiro, a retired Director General of Police, said that unless police reforms were implemented in full spirit the rot in the force and the nexus between politicians and police officers would continue. In an opinion piece in, Rebeiro wrote: “The police reforms, mandated by the Dharam Vira Commission, and upheld in the Supreme Court’s judgment of 2006 in the Prakash Singh case, has attempted to address the core issue of the politicisation of the police. But no political party in power, at the Centre or in the States, is willing to loosen its stranglehold over the police….These developments, which have totally demoralised the Mumbai City Police and shamed most retired and most serving officers of the Indian Police Service, are a stark reminder that police reforms cannot be delayed any further.”

Among the many reforms suggested was a change in the method of appointing officers. Rebeiro writes: “The power of transfers and appointments of senior Indian Police Service officers and the choice of police leaders at the cutting edge cannot be left to the politicians in power alone. The leader of the opposition and the chief justice of the State should be associated with the selection of the State’s Director General of Police and the Mumbai Police Commissioner. If a proper choice had been made for the post of Mumbai’s Police Commissioner, all this disgrace could have been avoided.”

Ironically, when Parambir Singh, an IPS officer of the 1988 batch, was appointed as Mumbai Police Commissioner many officers felt then that he deserved the posting, police sources said. He had experience in battling the underworld, had worked in the Anti-Corruption Bureau, was reportedly accessible and, therefore, popular with the rank and file. A police source said: “It is not clear when the decline began, but this is the first time an officer of this stature has so much stacked against him and, more importantly, has simply vanished.”