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‘Naxal dalams in the state have been wiped out’: Maharashtra DGP Satish Mathur

As Maharashtra DGP Satish Mathur hangs up his boots this week after a career spanning over 37 years, he speaks to Rashmi Rajput on the big challenges ahead, Artificial Intelligence and tackling terror modules. Excerpts.

Written by Rashmi Rajput | Mumbai |
Updated: June 25, 2018 4:03:42 am
‘Naxal dalams in Maharashtra have been wiped out’: Maharashtra DGP Satish Mathur DGP Satish Mathur at his office in Mumbai
. (Express photo by Nirmal Harindran)

In your career spanning over 37 years, which were the most fulfilling and challenging assignments?

I have done a few long stints. I worked as the Joint Commissioner, Mumbai Traffic Police, for nearly three years. I worked for the CBI for nearly seven years, as well as with Air India for five years, on deputation. Of course, the biggest responsibility has been the post of Maharashtra DGP, which I have held for nearly two years. I would say my stint in the Mumbai Traffic Police was the most fulfilling, as there were a lot of expectations. I introduced innovation and technology, foremost being CCTV operations. The first CCTV operations in Mumbai began with the traffic control cameras, which were 100 in number. Then we had the breathalysers, public address systems, electronic display boards, other innovations such as using the ‘contra lane’ as they call it in traffic parlance, implementing the intelligent traffic system at signals.

The toughest assignment was apprehending General Arun Shridhar Vaidya’s killers. In fact, that same day the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was visiting Pune to condole with Mrs Vaidya, and it was also the first day of Ganpati celebrations. I had kept peripheral police inspectors available so that they could be deployed in case of any emergency and patrolling. In fact, one of the officers on patrolling duty had caught the killers of General Vaidya while they were trying to flee the city.

Your tenure saw the biggest Naxal operation being executed. In a recent interview, you said, with the encounter of three dalam leaders, the Naxal base in Maharashtra is almost routed. Do you stand by that?

The dalams in Maharashtra have been wiped out, there is no doubt about it. It’s not just these two encounters. Systematically, over the last two years, we have been building up our capacities and obtaining results. These encounters are not by chance, but there has been systematic planning and upgradation of our training and facilities. I shouldn’t be saying this but Naxalites have been caught napping. Their leadership is not in sync with the need of their people. Their people have been given some arms and misled. As long as they mislead their people, this is bound to happen. We are not against the Indian population. All the people we are dealing with in Naxal areas are Indians, we would like if they come to the mainstream and give up arms. Once they give up arms they can follow any philosophy at their will but if they indulge in violence against the state, that is not democracy.

Our biggest success would be the August 2017 encounter (when an alleged Naxal camp operational in the Abujhmad area at the border of Gadchiroli and Chhattisgarh was busted following an encounter) where we picked up horses and donkeys and brought them back without them being able to do anything about it. That was a much greater success where you go to somebody’s territory and bring back his resources. At that point, the Naxals should have realised that they are losing their battle and surrendered, which is what we have been wanting them to do even now.

What is the assessment of the threat letters received regarding a “befitting reply” to the encounter?

Threat letters are from people who are not from the ground. They only know English. I know more of Marx than they do. It is part of their propaganda. We have already traced the authors of some of these letters and we would trace the others as well and book them.

How do you respond to the criticism regarding the recent arrests of the alleged Naxal sympathisers in the Bhima Koregaon case?

We are doing our job and we are on a very solid footing. We have enough technical and documentary evidence that we shall produce at the appropriate time before the court.

The state police have been criticised by many human rights organisations for the Gadchiroli encounter, calling it a “cold-blooded murder”. Please comment.

We don’t indulge in cold-blooded murders. The topmost Naxalite with the biggest reward was arrested by us in broad daylight along with his wife. If we wanted, we could have murdered him and his wife, but we caught them. Those who do not fire on us are arrested. If you threaten my life and fire on my men, obviously you will face retaliation.

What is the information on the seven people still missing from Gattepalli village? It’s been over a month.

We have shown the dead bodies to the villagers, one has been identified and taken away. For the rest, we have taken DNA samples and are matching those with the DNA of the bodies recovered. Also, involvement of these missing villagers cannot be ruled out. The village is 25 kilometres away from the scene of the encounter so you cannot stroll through 25 kilometres of Gadchiroli jungles just to be at the other spot.

At the DG meet , you spoke about homegrown terror modules, the IM that has metamorphosed into ISIS, ISJK, AQIS and others. What’s the threat perception from these outfits?

Terrorism will remain a threat. The problem is that a lot of terror activities are planned globally so we have to be alert, always. While we were able to successfully nip the bud of many modules or counter their plans well in time, we have a lot of intelligence that we have shared with intelligence agencies that have also successfully raided hideouts in the rest of the country. Besides being alert, there is no other option. Their funding, their resources, their ideology can come from any part of the world.

On my presentation, it was not on what is terrorism. My only submission in the conference was to allow us to obtain technological equipment to counter their plans and for that what government rules and procedures need to be modified.

How do you see the use of Artificial Intelligence in policing, and is it a substitute for human intelligence?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) can never be a substitute for human intelligence. Policing is 90 percent human intelligence and perception. AI can bring forward suggestions and records that you can use but ultimately it’s the human mind that has to go for detection of crime. Detection of crime purely on AI basis cannot take place, at least in the next 15-20 years. They are aids but they are no substitutes for the human mind. Data flows from hundreds of places into a policeman’s mind. His own records, his discussion with his colleagues, media, social media, all this is constantly going on in the processor of his mind and he is constantly churning it. When he churns it, he is able to find the line of investigation and pick up his first suspect.

How much importance will you give to cyber intelligence?

Today, cyber intelligence gives us call detail records, it gives us location of a person, lets us know if a person was present at a particular spot or if his/her associates were present there. But these are clues, one has to render this information to find out how the crime was committed and that’s where the human mind takes over.

The government has set a deadline of 2022 for wiping out Naxalism. Is that a tenable deadline?

As far as Maharashtra is concerned, we have to only push development in the two affected districts and hope that Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh also curb Naxal activities. Once they are able to do that then it’s doable. The area needs equitable development. The government is aware of this and is taking a lot of steps.

Your force was criticised for taking a very conventional view on the application made by Constable Lalita Salve, seeking permission to undergo a gender realignment surgery. Do you think the police gave in only after the media reported about it extensively?

Media gets excited, we are not responsible. This was a new situation for which government directives were received and as soon as they were received, we passed them to the local police.

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