Fourteen years before she gained notoriety as an alleged “drug peddler,” Shashikala ‘Baby’ Patankar had managed to walk free from her very first arrest in a manner that still leaves narcotics officers in Mumbai fumbling for words.
In March 2001, Patankar had been arrested after the Anti Narcotics Cell (ANC) of the Mumbai Police reportedly found her with 30 grams of brown sugar. By November, she was out, acquitted by a special Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act court at the Bombay City Civil and Sessions Court.
“This is a person who got acquittal in an NDPS case within eight months. Most cases do not even come up for trial for at least a year,” says a senior Mumbai police official, explaining why he isn’t surprised at news of her discharge last month by another NDPS court in Maharashtra’s Satara district.
In March 2015, Patankar was accused of supplying 112 kg of the narcotic drug mephedrone that was found at the home of dismissed Mumbai police constable Dharmaraj Kalokhe, in Kanheri village in Satara’s Khandala taluka. A week later, 12 kg more of the drug was found in a cupboard at Mumbai’s Marine Drive police station where Kalokhe was posted.
The two were alleged to be colluding with Kalokhe accused of profiting from Patankar’s drug deals.
On August 28, a special NDPS court in Satara discharged her in the case.
Abhinav Deshmukh, then Superintendent of Police for Satara and now in charge of Gadchiroli district, declined to comment.
Within a month of police making the high-profile arrest of Patankar, things had begun to unravel. Forensic analysis of the powder seized from Kalokhe’s home and cupboard tested negative for mephedrone and positive for MSG, the food additive sodium glutamate, better known as ajinomoto.
By then, police had locked up Patankar and her elder son and picked up two senior police officials a day before their retirement on charges of assisting her in evading arrest.
The Satara police got the samples re-tested at the Central Forensic Science Laboratory in Hyderabad, but with the same result. The Mumbai Police’s attempt to do the same never made it past the Bombay High Court.
Judge M J Mirza of the special NDPS court in Satara cleared Patankar’s discharge application pointing out that mephedrone was not even a controlled substance in August 2014, when police allege she passed on bags containing the drug to Kalokhe. The drug was only notified as a controlled substance by the Union government in February 2015.
The judge also noted that no traces of the drug were actually found in Patankar’s possession — a basic requirement in any successful NDPS prosecution. “Except the statement of co-accused Dharmaraj Kalokhe, there is no material on record to show any nexus of the present accused with the said substance,” Judge Mirza wrote in his August 28 order.
Suhas Gokhale, a retired senior inspector of the ANC who was one of the five policemen named in the Mumbai police’s case, says Patankar’s discharge will pave the way for his release. “All our roles in the case are tied to her. Now that she has been discharged, we know we will also be out,” he says.
Mumbai-based NDPS lawyer Ayaz Khan, who is representing Patankar, points out that notwithstanding the publicity, it was an easy case. “The forensic test report negative, the statement of the co-accused inadmissible, finished…,” he quips.
Khan also points out that it was one of his youngest juniors, advocate Gorakh Liman, who argued Patankar’s discharge application in the Satara hearings. “We have had quite a few laughs over this,” Khan says.
Senior police officials believe Patankar may have duped Kalokhe and them too, by knowingly giving the constable large quantities of ajinomoto and claiming it was mephedrone.
“Kalokhe began demanding a greater share of the profits. So it is possible she herself leaked information to police that he had stored drugs at his home to teach him a lesson,” says a senior police official.
While she has been out on bail for two years now, Patankar claims little relief from the court order. “In this city, if you want to settle scores with someone, don’t kill them, just plant some powder at their home or vehicle and get them implicated in an NDPS case,” bristles the 57-year-old.
Her expression only softens and she allows herself a smile at the mention of Deepak Humre, the former deputy superintendent of police, Satara’s Wai division, who investigated the case. Last year, Humre was trapped by the Maharashtra Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) for allegedly demanding a bribe of Rs 5 lakh in exchange for not opposing her discharge plea.
Patankar also asks if the Mumbai Police actually wants to fight drugs. “If police want to really do it, they can do it easily. Ganja and charas are sold openly in Worli, and gambling clubs run with impunity. I can show them all that,” she says.