IN the wake of the sensational custodial death in Sangli and the involvement of a civilian acting as “zero police” in the conspiracy and its execution, Maharashtra Director General of Police (DGP) Satish Mathur Monday said there was “no recognized institution of zero police”. He told The Indian Express: “All units are instructed to dispense with any such unofficial arrangement if existing in their units.” When asked about “zero police,” DGP Mathur said, “There is no recognized institution of zero police.”
The death of 26-year-old Aniket Kothale, arrested in a robbery case, in the custody of Sangli city police on November 6, has brought to light the controversial role of civilians, termed as “zero police”, who do various “unofficial” as well as “illegal” works for police personnel involved in the official work.
Six persons arrested for Kothale’s murder in police custody include five policemen – police sub-inspector Yuvraj Kamate, constables Anil Lad, Arun Tone, Naseeruddin Mulla, Rahul Shigte, and one “zero police” identified as Zakir Pattewale (44).
As per the first information report (FIR), which is being investigated by the state criminal investigation department (CID), the Sangli city police had arrested Aniket Kothale and Amol Bhandare (23) for allegedly robbing an engineer, Santosh Gaikwad, on Sangli-Kolhapur Road.
A local court remanded the duo to police custody for two days. On the night of November 6, the duo was taken to the Detection Branch (DB) room for Sangli city police station where a police team, led by sub-inspector Kamate, subjected Kothale to “third degree,” stripped him and hung him upside down with a rope. As the rope snapped, Kothale fell, head down, in a bucket of water. He was then taken out and was allegedly mercilessly beaten again with a rubber pipe. Kothale begged for mercy, saying that he was unable to breathe. But the policemen did not leave Kothale and he suffocated and died.
Then, the policemen asked “zero police” Zakir Pattewale to clothe Kothale’s body. Pattewale also helped the police drag Kothale’s body out of the DB room. The “zero police” is also suspected to have played a role in helping the accused policemen take the body to Amboli ghat area and burn it in order to destroy the evidence.
Investigators suspect that 44-year-old Pattewale, a resident of Pakiza Masjid area, had been working as “zero police” at Sangli city police station for months. Dressed like policemen in plain clothes, he was close to some senior police officials and had access to the police station.
A senior police officer said that such “zero policemen” are found active in different police units all over the state, more in Western Maharashtra, even in Pune city and Pune rural police for several years. Some policemen claim that these “zero policemen” are “informers”. But a senior IPS officer serving with Maharashtra police, who has held positions across the state, said, “These ‘zero policemen’ are mainly used for three things. One is for the petty jobs at the police station. They even stand as panch witness for the panchnama that are carried out in all the criminal cases. In most cases, they act as ‘collector’, which means that they collect hafta on behalf of the officials of the police station. The ‘zero policemen’ are also sometimes made to collect bribe money. The serving policemen pay money from their pockets to ‘zero policemen’ for doing all such works…..The concept of ‘zero police’ is more prevalent in western Maharashtra as the constabulary in these areas is well-off, compared to other parts of the state and so they can pay these men on their own.”
Another police officer said that after developing contacts with the serving policemen, most “zero policemen, despite being civilians, get deep access to the police units. Earlier, while speaking to the representatives of the all-party action committee, formed in Sangli to condemn the custodial death, District Collector Vijaykumar Kalam Patil said he had spoken to the top Sangli police officials.