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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Explained: The controversial reputation of Mumbai’s crime intelligence unit

Mumbai Police Crime Intelligence Unit: A look at the CIU and the controversial reputation it has acquired in the three decades it has been in existence.

Written by Sagar Rajput | Mumbai |
Updated: April 8, 2021 9:42:15 am
Mumbai Police (File Photo)

Until his arrest in March, controversial Assistant Inspector Sachin Waze was heading the Crime Intelligence Unit (CIU) of the Mumbai Police. A look at the unit and the controversial reputation it has acquired in the three decades it has been in existence.

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Intel & logistics

The CIU was set up as an ancillary unit providing intelligence and logistical support to various units of the Mumbai Police. But since its inception in 1990, its public image has been shaped by its focus on encounters, manned as it was by so-called “encounter specialists” associated with the killing of alleged criminals and gangsters in encounters, some of which embroiled the police in serious trouble for being “fake”.

The CIU was the brainchild of the then Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) R D Tyagi, who set it up in 1990 after Sub-inspector Lakhmersingh Sardar was gunned down by Khalistani militants. Tyagi’s brief was that it should act as the “eyes and ears” of the Mumbai Police and gather intelligence on terror organisations and the underworld.

“Tyagi Sir rued the loss of our men and said we should get intel (intelligence) regarding all these movements taking place in Mumbai,” said retired police officer Fatesingh Gaikwad, who was the first officer in charge of CIU. But, Gaikwad recalled, Tyagi’s strict instructions were that CIU would not investigate any case and only gather intelligence.

Although Mumbai Police’s “special branch” was also an intelligence unit, it was more focused on gathering information related to law and order situations such as the mill strikes of those years. Tyagi believed the police needed a specialised unit dedicated to intelligence on criminals.

Gaikwad, its first head, had a team of 18 officers whose role was to stay in touch with central agencies such as Intelligence Bureau, R&AW and CBI, gather intelligence from them as well their own sources, and feed this to field unit officers at zonal Crime Branch units.

Former Mumbai Police Commissioner M N Singh said, “CIU was a feeder unit, which would give inputs to other units, and then they would take action. CIU did not have any rights to investigate.”

Another former head of the unit, requesting anonymity, said CIU was a logistical department. “We would keep an updated record on the release of any criminal and pass on the input to the zonal unit asking them to keep a close watch on movement. We would also go to court when a high-profile gangster was being produced as their gang members would come to meet them and, accordingly, we would make a confidential report and submit it to our superiors,” said the retired police officer.

Changing role

In 1993, CIU donned a new role. It was asked to investigate the 1993 bomb blast that took place outside the regional passport office in Mumbai’s Worli.

“Many policemen were involved in the investigation. The department needed the involvement of more officers, so I was made an investigating officer… it was three months after the blast took place,” Gaikwad added.

As commissioners came and went, the role of the CIU also underwent changes.

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Encounter era

The first time the unit courted controversy was with the alleged fake encounter of a peanut vendor, Abu Sayama alias Javed Fawda, in 1997. Retired Assistant Commissioner of Police Vasant Dhoble, who was then assistant inspector, was heading CIU.

A petition was filed by a human rights organisation regarding 135 encounters, including Fawda’s encounter, between 1995 and 1997. An inquiry was ordered by principal sessions court judge A S Augiar, who concluded that the encounters were fake; however, the Bombay High Court turned down the lower court’s verdict. The Supreme Court subsequently ruled the matter in favour of the police.

In 2001, the CIU was divided into two units: one at police headquarters in South Mumbai and the other in Andheri called CIU Suburbs. This was also the time that high-profile “encounter specialists” joined the unit. Pradeep Sharma was made in charge of the suburbs unit with Waze under him.

It was during their stint in the CIU suburbs unit that engineer Khwaja Yunus died, allegedly during custodial interrogation. He had been brought in for questioning related to the 2002 Ghatkopar bomb blast case. Waze and three constables were arrested and, subsequently, suspended from the force in 2004.

In another instance, the Sharma-led unit gunned down three Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorists including two Pakistani nationals in Goregaon area in 2003, the first encounter in which AK-47 rifles were used. The police said then that they were on the way to kill a well-known politician.

Reset

Owing to allegations of fake encounters and extortion against the CIU suburbs unit, Meera Borwankar, then Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime), issued an order in 2004 to close the CIU suburbs unit.

From September 2004, apart from providing logistical support and collecting intelligence, the remaining branch of the CIU at headquarters was given operational powers, which meant they could investigate cases assigned by superiors, or carry out raids, for instance on dance bars or hookah bars, an officer said.

“Between 2004 and 2020, the CIU gathered inputs, provided logistical support and fed them to field units. On the instruction of our senior officers, we investigated a few cases and also assisted other units in the investigation of sensitive cases, like the 2013 IPL scandal,” said another officer, who was in charge of the unit.

In 2020, when Waze was reinstated and returned to the unit and made in charge of it, contrary to the under-the-radar image it had carefully built since 2004, the CIU began investigating high-profile cases such as the TRP scandal, Instagram fake follower case, the Dilip Chabria matter and Hrithik Roshan’s fake email case.

An officer said, “For the last couple of months, it looked like the purpose for which this unit was formed has ceased to exist.”

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