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Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Memoir: A cop like Maria!

“The journey of a Bandra boy from wearing chappals and playing cricket in the streets to becoming an IPS officer and police commissioner of Mumbai is like a dream come true”.
These words spoken by Rakesh Maria on the day he took charge as police chief of Mumbai are still echoing in my ears.  That was one of the most joyous moment for Maria and that time nobody had a thought that his dream will culminate in such an distasteful manner. I am personally saddened by the treatment meted out to Maria by Maharashtra government. An officer who has given so much to the city didn’t deserve such conduct at the zenith of his glorious career.

Most of crime journalists who have seen Maria for years have certain observations to make and events to remember. I too have a few. When I commenced my career as a tv journo in 1999, Rakesh Maria was chief of railway police, which was equivalent to the rank of additional commissioner in Mumbai police. During past 16 years, I have been able to see his professional ups and downs as well as got an idea of human qualities in Maria which were distinct from others in the world of cops.

Elephantine Memory:
Comparing Rakesh Maria with Albert Einstein will be absurd and inappropriate, but there is something very exceptional in Maria’s brain which makes him a man with superb memory. During press conferences as railway police chief, Maria used to provide details of 4 to 5 different criminal cases which were detected by his force. Each case had 2 to 3 accused persons who were paraded before the media. Rakesh Maria never looked even once towards his diary while describing details of each accused like when did which accused committed his first crime, how many times he was arrested in the past, who were his family members, how many residences he had changed etc. All such details of accused paraded in the press conferences were on his tip of tongue. He could also tell the details of over 150 accused arrested in 1993 Mumbai bombing case without referring to the papers.

Trusting People: His Weakness.
Whether Rakesh Maria was a DCP or the top cop of Mumbai police, he was always very approachable, gentle, soft spoken and friendly while dealing with his subordinates, journalists and public. Although, ironical it may sound for a sharp and intelligent cop like Rakesh Maria, he was quick to trust people and often took them on their face value. This turned out to be one of his weaknesses and landed him in trouble few times. I remember two instances here.

While award winning author Suketu Mehta was writing his famous book “Maximum City: Mumbai”, he approached Rakesh Maria through his relative’s reference. He told Maria that he was writing a book on Mumbai and also needed inputs on Mumbai underworld from him. What Suketu didn’t tell Maria was that he was making Maria himself a character in his book. Maria trusted him and showered him with ample information. He even allowed Suketu access to interrogation of criminals and shared his views on the dirty politics prevalent in Maharashtra police and nexus between IPS officers and politicians. Suketu was often invited at his home by Maria. When the book was published, there was a whole big chapter on Rakesh Maria and what Maria thought about the police force he was serving in. Only thing what Suketu did was that he changed Maria’s name in the book as Ajay Lal. However, he gave so many details about the personality and career of Rakesh Maria that it became obvious that Ajay Lal was none else other than Rakesh Maria. Once, at ATS office when I asked Maria whether he was in touch with Suketu Mehta his face turned red with anger- “I trusted that @#$% and he cheated me.”

In 2000, when Rakesh Maria was railway police chief, he met a journalist from a web portal on a friend’s request. The journalist told Maria that he was working on a story focussing on the nexus between underworld and cricketers. Maria agreed to help him with relevant information on the condition that he will not be quoted. Trusting the journalist, Maria spoke freely to him and explained how an ex captain of Indian cricket team was linked with Dawood Ibrahim’s gang. While talking to that journo, Maria didn’t realise that he was recording everything in a camera fitted in his handbag which was placed right in front of Maria. The web portal got a big scoop and publicised the sting operation claiming that a senior IPS officer has revealed cricket-underworld nexus. Maria was in a big trouble after that.

Criminal Investigation: A Passion.
Lawyer Mahesh Jethmalani & few others have questioned why Mumbai police chief Rakesh Maria is personally investigating Sheena Bora murder case? Well those who know Rakesh Maria since years will not be surprised. Criminal investigation has been his passion. Apart from cracking 1993 blast case as a DCP, he personally investigated few railway crime cases as railway police chief. When he was crime branch chief he personally investigated Esther Anuhaya murder case & Neeraj Grover murder case.
His ex boss MN Singh confirms that Maria is an enthusiast of criminal investigations & gets personally involved in complicated cases.

Response to embarrassing situations :
In Novemeber 2009 then police commissioner D.Sivanandhan and Rakesh Maria who was joint commissioner of crime branch launched my book on 26/11 terrorist attacks on Mumbai.
The venue was heritage hall of Wilson College and one of the guests invited on stage was Smitha Salaskar, widow of late inspector Vijay Salaskar who died fighting with terrorists during the attack. When she began her speech, everybody present in the hall was taken aback. Mrs.Salaskar targeted Maria and used very harsh and bitter words against him. Smitha Salaskar’s anger against Maria was due to her belief that Maria who was handling the control room was unable to send rescue team quickly to the spot where Salaskar was lying injured for several minutes after being hit by bullets. Any other officer of his rank would have left the gathering in anger after hearing such words addressed to him, but Maria maintained his calm. When it was Maria's turn to speak, he began with words – “I can understand emotions of Mrs.Salaskar…under those circumstances we did our best…” with this he moved on to focus his speech on the content of my book.
Rakesh Maria, Dr.Sirwaiya, Jitendra Dixit, D.Sivanandhan, Smitha Salaskar, Prem Shukla.

I felt guilty that in my function Maria had to face such an embarrassing situation. I should have not invited both of them on stage together. I called Rakesh Maria  at around 9pm that night – “I am sorry that you had to face this in today’s function.” He responded calmly – “Don’t worry Jitendra. She has lost her husband. We must understand her emotions. Such things happen and we must not be affected by them.”

Last Tuesday when Rakesh Maria was transferred from Mumbai Police Commissioner’s post and promoted as D.G of Homeguards, I alongwith few other journalists met him at his new office in the evening. He was visibly angry and upset at the sudden turn of events in his life. However, while leaving he brought a smile on his face and told us – “Today I will surprise my wife by reaching home at 6pm and will tell her that I have become a good boy.”

There are several other incidents which give an idea of Rakesh Maria’s professional abilities and his persona, but all those cant be covered in this brief blog. In Rakesh Maria I see a dedicated police officer with excellent detective skills and a down to earth human being. Truly, there is no other cop like Maria.

Friday, 4 September 2015

UK cops can go to this extent to investigate unidentified dead body!

Lancashire cops Graham Coates and Al Yusuf with an officer of Mumbai Police.

Sheena Bora was killed in 2012 and her murder case got detected only 3 years later. One of the causes for this delay was the unprofessional conduct of Raigarh cops who did not investigate the case of unidentified dead body found in their jurisdiction. Although, the body which was recovered by them was burnt and concealed in a travelling bag, they skipped to register a murder case. Raigarh cops also didn’t care to collect the report from anatomy department of Sir.J.J.Hospital where the skeletal remains were sent. Such conduct of Raigarh cops is an example of how cops treat the cases of unidentified dead bodies reported to them. This case has reminded me of “Operation Complex” of UK police. That operation demonstrated to which extent cops in UK go to investigate a case of unidentified dead body, no matter how much money has to be spent, how much manpower is to be employed and how much time it takes.

On July 26, 2002 a woman reported about the dead body to the Lancashire cops whose dog got hold of a bone from a rural drainage ditch. Lancashire cops initiated their investigations to ascertain the dead person’s identity. A preliminary examination by the official pathologist confirmed the bones to be human and it was also confirmed that the victim was murdered and he died due to injuries on his head. Following more detailed tests from Human Identification Unit of Glasgow University, it was established that the victim was of Asian origin, possibly from India, aged between 20 and 40 when he died. He was 5ft 6inches tall and of slender built. A facial reconstruction was also made from the skull. It was assumed that the body might be of some illegal immigrant.

Lancashire police conducted an exhaustive investigation throughout the UK. Police teams were sent to different cities who checked with Asian neighbourhoods if any person of the available description was missing. This continued for over 9 months, but Lancashire cops didn’t get any success. Then Lancashire police then decided to send teams to those countries which could be possibly the origin of the deceased. It was an arduous task to ascertain the identity of the victim and then find out his killers, hence, it was codenamed as “Operation Complex”. Under this operation two officers named Graham Coates and Altaf Yusuf visited India.

On reaching India in September 2003, both the officers met ex police commissioner of Mumbai Dr.Satyapal Singh, who was chief of crime branch then. The team had brought clay model and computer sketch of the deceased with them. On their request Satyapal Singh called a press conference to decimate information throughout the country with an attempt to identify the victim. Mumbai cops were amazed to see the efforts taken by Lancashire police to investigate a case of unidentified dead body so seriously. Some had sarcastic smile on their faces. Apart from Mumbai, Lancashire cops approached Gujarat and Punjab cops also for similar help. They also roped in cricketer Virendra Sehwag playing for the county to make an appeal to the public for identification of the victim.

These officers of Lancashire Constabulary became good friends of mine and they were impressed with the coverage which Star News gave to the case. In 2005 officer Al Yusuf came back to India and met me. Yusuf requested me that as Star News was very popular among Indian origin residents of UK, I must highlight “Operation Complex” in my weekly crime show “Red Alert” as this could help them. The fact that a police team from a small town in Britain was taking so much effort in pursuing the case of unidentified dead body was pleasantly surprising and interesting. I aired a whole episode of “Red Alert” on the operation appealing the viewers to reach out to Lancashire cops if they have any info about the victim. Lancashire police was impressed with our co-operation and sent a letter of appreciation to me.

Letter received by Jitendra Dixit from Lancashire Police, UK.

It has been over 12 years that “Operation Complex” was launched. Recently, when I spoke to Al Yusuf, he informed that “Operation Complex” is still on. So far the victim’s dead body has not been identified. In many cases it will be unfair to compare police of India and UK as cops in UK are better off in many ways than their Indian counterparts. However, our cops can still learn from them on how to pursue cases of unidentified dead bodies. “Operation Complex” of Lancashire Constabulary is inspiring and worth appreciation.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

ऑपरेशन कॉम्प्लैक्स: लावारिस लाश मिलने पर इस हद तक जाती है ब्रिटेन की पुलिस!

लैंकशायर पुलिस के अधिकारी ग्राहम कोट्स और अल यूसुफ मुंबई पुलिस के अधिकारी के साथ।

शीना बोरा की हत्या 2012 में हुई और 3 साल बाद ही उसकी हत्या का पता लग पाया। ऐसा क्यों हुआ इसके पीछे एक कारण ये भी है कि रायगढ पुलिस ने उसी साल अपने इलाके में मिली एक लावारिस लाश की तहकीकात नहीं की। न तो पुलिस ने बैग में बंद जली हुई लाश मिलने पर हत्या का मुकदमा दर्ज किया और न ही उसके अंगों के सैंपल जांच के लिये जे.जे.अस्पताल भेजने के बाद उसकी रिपोर्ट हासिल करने की सुध रखी। रायगढ पुलिस की ये लापरवाही एक मिसाल है कि हमारे देश में पुलिस लावारिस लाशों के मिलने पर उनकी जांच में कितनी दिलचस्पी लेती है। इस मामले ने मुझे याद दिला दी ब्रिटेन की पुलिस के ऑपरेशन कॉम्प्लैक्स की। उस ऑपरेशन से ये पता चलता चलता है कि ब्रिटेन की पुलिस किसी लावारिस शव के मिलने पर उसकी तहकीकात के लिये किस हद तक जा सकती है, फिर चाहे उसके लिये कितना भी पैसा, कितने भी लोग और कितना भी वक्त क्यों न लगाना पडे।

26 जुलाई 2002 को ब्रिटेन के लैंकशायर नाम के कस्बे से सटे ग्रामीण इलाके में एक महिला अपने कुत्ते को टहला रही थी। अचानक कुत्ता सडक के किनारे झाडियों में पडी हड्डियों के कुछ टुकडों को खींचने लगा। उस महिला ने जब करीब जाकर देखा तो उसके होश उड गये। वहां एक पूरा नरकंकाल पडा था।खबर मिलने के बाद लैंकशायर पुलिस ने मामले की जांच शुरू की। शव की शिनाख्त हो सके, ऐसी कोई निशानी शव के पास से नहीं मिली। शव को ग्लासगो यूनिवर्सिटी के ह्यूमन आईडेंटीफिकेशन यूनिट के पास फोरेंसिक जांच के लिये भेजा गया। जांच रिपोर्ट से पता चला कि ये कंकाल एशियाई मूल के किसी आदमी का है, जिसकी उम्र 40 साल के करीब है, जिसका कद 5 फुट 6 इंच लंबा है। जांच में ये भी पता चला कि उसके सिर पर भारी चीज से हमला करके उसे मारा गया था। पुलिस ने हत्या का मामला दर्ज किया और अनुमान लगाया कि ये किसी गैरकानूनी अप्रवासी का शव हो सकता है।

सबसे पहले लैंकशायर पुलिस ने पूरे ब्रिटेन में मारे गये शख्स की पहचान तलाशने की कोशिश की। पुलिस की टीमें अलग अलग शहरों में गईं और वहां एशियाई लोगों की बस्तियों में जाकर पूछताछ की क्या उनके बीच का कोई गुमशुदा है। ये सिलसिला करीब 9 महीने तक चला, लेकिन वहां लैंकशायर पुलिस को कोई कामियाबी नहीं मिली। इसके बाद पुलिस ने तय किया कि वो उन एशियाई देशों में भी टीमें भेजेगी जहां से मारे गये शख्स के आने की संभावना थी। एक लावारिस लाश की पहचान का पता लगाना और फिर उसके कातिल को पकडना एक बेहद पेचीदा काम था और इसी के मद्देनजर पुलिस ने अपने इस मिशन को नाम दिया ऑपरेशन कॉम्प्लैक्स। इस ऑपरेशन के तहत 2 अधिकारियों की टीम जिनके नाम ग्राहम कोट्स और अलताफ युसुफ थे भारत आये।

सितंबर 2003 में भारत आकर उन्होने मुंबई के पूर्व पुलिस कमिश्नर डॉ.सत्यपाल सिंह जो तब क्राईम ब्रांच के ज्वाइंट कमिश्नर थे से मुलाकात की। दोनो अधिकारियों की टीम अपने साथ मारे गये शख्स का क्ले मॉडल और कंप्यूटर स्केच भी लाई थी। उन अधिकारियों की गुजारिश पर सत्यपाल सिंह ने एक प्रेस कंफ्रेंस रखी, जिसमें दोनो ब्रिटिश अधिकारियों ने भारत की जनता से अपील की कि अगर किसी को मृत शख्स के बारे में जानकारी हो तो वे उनसे संपर्क करें। एक लावरिश लाश की जांच के लिये ब्रिटेन की पुलिस इतना सिर खपायेगी, ये जानकर मुंबई के पुलिस के अधिकारी भी हैरान थे और कुछ के चेहरों पर दोनो ब्रिटिश अधिकारियों का मजाक उडाने वाली मुस्कराहट भी थी। मुंबई के अलावा गुजरात और पंजाब की पुलिस से भी इन अधिकारियों ने इसी तरह की मदद मांगी। पंजाब में उन्होने क्रिकेटर विरेंद्र सहवाग के जरिये मदद की अपील करवाई जो कि उस वक्त इंग्लैंड में काउंटी क्रिकेट खेलते थे।

लैंकशायर पुलिस के इन अधिकारियों से मेरी अच्छी दोस्ती हो गई थी और वे स्टार न्यूज पर ऑपरेशन कॉम्प्लैक्स को दिये गये कवरेज से प्रभावित थे। साल 2005 में अल यूसुफ नाम का अधिकारी फिर एक बार वापस भारत आया और इस बार उसने सिर्फ मुझसे मुलाकात की। यूसुफ ने कहा कि ब्रिटेन में भारतीय मूल के लोगों में स्टार न्यूज काफी लोकप्रिय है और अगर मैं फिर एक बार अपने साप्ताहिक क्राईम शो रेड अलर्ट में ऑपरेशन कॉम्प्लैक्स के बारे में जानकारी दूं तो उन्हें मदद मिल सकती है क्योंकि मारे गये शख्स की अब तक पहचान नहीं हो सकी है। ब्रिटेन के एक छोटे से कस्बे की पुलिस एक लावारिस लाश की तहकीकात के लिये इतनी मेहनत कर रही है, ये बात हमारे लिये चौंकाने वाली भी थी और दिलचस्प भी।मैने रेड अलर्ट में पूरे ऑपेरशन की जानकारी दी और लावारिस शव का पूरा ब्यौरा दिया। हमारी ओर से मिले सहयोग से खुश होकर लैंकशायर पुलिस ने मुझे एक पत्र भी भेजा।
लैंकशायर पुलिस की ओर से जीतेंद्र दीक्षित को भेजा गया पत्र।

ऑपरेशन कॉम्प्लैक्स को शुरू हुए 12 साल बीत चुके हैं। मेरी हाल ही में अधिकारी अल यूसुफ से बात हुई तो उसने बताया कि ऑपरेशन कॉम्प्लैक्स अब भी जारी है। लाश की पहचान अब तक नहीं हुई है। कई मामलों में भारतीय पुलिस और ब्रिटेन की पुलिस में तुलना करना गलत होगा क्योंकि वहां कि पुलिस फोर्स को कई ऐसी सुविधाएं मिली हुईं हैं, जिनसे कि हमारी पुलिस वंचित है, लेकिन कोई लावारिस लाश मिलने पर उसकी जांच कैसे की जाये, ये सीख तो उनसे ली ही जा सकी है। लैंकशायर पुलिस का ऑपेरेशन कॉम्प्लैकस प्रशंसनीय भी है और प्रेरणादायी भी।