His name is Tapan Sarkar alias “Dada”. For nearly two decades, from his first brush with the law at the age of 16 in 1986, he gave shape to one of Chhattisgarh’s most notorious criminal gangs. And then, in 2005, not for the first time in his life, he was arrested. This time, the charge of murder stuck, and he was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Today, 13 years later, Sarkar is back on the radar, with police investigating an intricate network of crime and illegality stretching across the state from his Barrack No.8 in Durg Central Jail.
On July 12, DIG (Prisons) K K Gupta finally ordered the break-up of the gang. Sarkar was transferred to Ambikapur jail, where he is in solitary confinement. Twelve other members of his gang were sent, three each, to Bilaspur, Jagdalpur, Raipur and Ambikapur.
Investigators of the Cyber Analysis Wing of Durg Police have found evidence of at least 21 SIM cards, four of them used exclusively by Sarkar. There are multiple instruments, at least 30, where these SIMs are swapped. “Calls routinely used to come and go to other members outside. Some to lawyers, and many to politicians,” a senior police officer said.
Durg Police have also registered three FIRs against Sarkar and others, two of them for extortion.
One of them — under sections of cheating (420), forgery of valuable security (467), forgery for purpose of cheating (468) and criminal conspiracy (120B) — alleges that Sarkar made the owners of Yash Group, the real estate operators who were in prison for a chitfund scam case, sign over prime property in Bhilai worth crores on a back-dated stamp paper.
Speaking to The Indian Express, G P Singh, IG (Durg Range), said: “Our investigations have revealed that they got an agreement signed on back-dated stamp paper. Someone took it inside the jail, where it was typed and an agreement signed.”
According to police records, Sarkar was born in Kolkata but spent most of his early years, until Class IX, in Chhattisgarh’s Dongargarh where his father, a Railways employee, was posted. Once his father retired, Sarkar and his five siblings moved to Durg, 40 km from Raipur. He even enrolled for B Com at the local college.
But by then, he had made it to police records. His first registered crime was as a Class X student, under sections 324 (voluntarily causing hurt with weapons), 506B (criminal intimidation), and 294 (obscene acts or songs).
Speaking to The Indian Express, Ashok Sharma, who was the S-I at the time in Durg, said: “He was the boy you called if you wanted someone beaten up. Back then, he had some strange moral principles, too. He would not steal or rob…but threatening someone, or assaulting them, was not a problem.”
Sharma, who is now a DySP in Durg, said Sarkar began “building his gang” once he got the contract for the cycle and motorcycle parking stand at the Durg railway station in the 1990s.
“He made a lot of money through commissions, and his name began circulating in Bhilai, where everyone needed muscle. Politicians met him and asked him to ‘make someone understand’. Owners of liquor businesses asked him to take care of someone entering their turf. Extortion was routine. Everyone seemed to owe him a favour, and he built a massive network. When you met him, he was calm, even well-spoken, not aggressive,” the officer said.
By 2000, Sharma said Sarkar had begun “giving other criminals shelter”.
“Sometimes, these people would take contracts on their own, but they were all part of Tapan’s gang. There was one person called Kanhaiya Yadav, who was infringing on Tapan’s turf. They shot him and dumped his body in a gorge called Chilfi ghati. The skeleton was found eight months later. Tapan got acquitted in the case, but some members of his gang were convicted,” Sharma said.
In February 2005, another gangster Mahadev Mahar was killed at a park in Bhilai. Five months later, police arrested Sarkar and many others of his gang for their role in the murder. “He was challenging them in their illegal liquor business. The post mortem had evidence of bullet wounds, knife injuries and blunt force trauma,” Sharma said.
Sarkar remained in jail even as the case was heard, and a court sentenced him to life imprisonment in 2015. But his story didn’t end there.
“About five months ago, some people coming out of jail came to us and revealed the kind of racket that is going on inside,” G P Singh, IG, said.
According to prison officials, Durg central jail has 11 barracks, with at least eight members of Sarkar’s group in each. “Much of Sarkar’s network was out of prison. They identified people that can pay, and if they didn’t, there were beatings in jail. Some complained that the group would even make inmates drink urine,” an official said.
“His people told those going inside jail that if you really wanted a good life, you had to do what they wanted. Generally, they provided various kinds of luxuries, like the use of telephones. They even ran a PCO and a dhaba inside,” IG Singh said.
Speaking to The Indian Express, a former inmate, who spent three months inside on a cheating and forgery case before being released on bail, said: “On the days that families were allowed to meet inmates, they would ask you either to bring money or tell you where to give it outside if you wanted to survive. The dhaba was run from the jail kitchen, and you could get chicken, mutton, anything. Drugs and alcohol were available, too.”
Asked how such an operation could thrive without the collusion of jail authorities, K K Gupta, DIG (Prisons) said, “If anyone is found guilty of such wrongdoing, we will definitely take action. We are waiting for a comprehensive report from police.”