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Sachin Waze scandal leaves unanswered questions, and one lesson: Dump ‘encounter specialists’

It is a tragedy police leaders face: Subordinate rank officers who show an inclination for the fight are much in demand. Yet, if not supervised, they turn rogue very early in their career.

Written by Julio Ribeiro |
Updated: March 18, 2021 8:58:37 am
Sachin Waze, after being produced by National Investigation Agency (NIA) in a court following his arrest, in Mumbai, Sunday, March 14, 2021. (PTI)

The tribe of “encounter specialists” had mercifully shrunk in the city of Mumbai by the time Sachin Waze was reinstated in the police. It had blossomed during the stewardships of successive police commissioners whose sole focus was on keeping crime in the city in check. The wider implications of this policy had not been envisaged.

Meeran Borwankar was the first woman IPS officer to be placed in charge of the city’s prestigious Crime Branch. She soon realised that the incidence of extortion cases in Mumbai took a quantum jump when these “specialists” were around. She sent them packing back to police stations. Fewer extortions were reported, creating much less work for the police, simultaneously relieving the builders and film producers of tensions.

Sachin Waze was said to be one such “encounter specialist”, who is believed to have blossomed under the tutelage of Pradip Sharma, an inspector who later contested Assembly elections on a Sena ticket and lost. Waze allegedly had 63 kills under his belt between 1997 and 2004, when he was nailed by the state CID for the custodial death of one suspect in the Ghatkopar bomb blasts case of 2002. Along with 14 other policemen, he was placed under suspension in 2004.

In 2007, Waze applied for reinstatement in service. The request was turned down. In 2008, he resigned from the force and joined the Shiv Sena. He allegedly used the Sena as a cover for his other activities, which are said to have consisted of setting up of private investigative agencies much in demand by banks and FMCG corporate houses to recover loans or dues.

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Waze joined the Maharashtra Police in 1990. Before his posting to Thane Police in 1992, he had served for a short while in Naxal-affected Gadchiroli, where he showed his enthusiasm for combat. It is a tragedy that police leaders face — subordinate rank officers who show an inclination for the fight are much in demand. Yet, if not supervised, they turn rogue very early in their career. On a trip to London some three decades ago I discussed some aspects of policing with Sir Peter Imbert, the police commissioner at Scotland Yard. He also had a similar problem of keeping in check special cell personnel who show a tendency to take advantage of their utility to the organisation and abuse their proximity to authority.

Besides acquiring unaccounted for wealth, these specialists become darlings of the middle class. Biopics are made on their “achievements”. Waze’s story was apparently depicted in a Marathi film called “Rege”, his part played by a leading actor.

It is not unusual for these specialists to invite the jealousy of their more conservative or less adventurous colleagues. Waze for instance, was installed as head of the City Police’s Crime Intelligence Cell though he was comparatively junior in rank. He had been reinstated in 2020 by a committee consisting of the Additional Chief Secretary (Home), and the Police Commissioner of Mumbai. The specious ground of “COVID duty” was given to justify the reinstatement after 13 years.

That Sachin Waze was a friend or close acquaintance of Mansukh Hiran, a Thane based owner of a shop providing car accessories, has been documented. So when the Scorpio parked outside Mukesh Ambani’s Mumbai residence on Altamount Road was found to contain gelatin sticks and a letter addressed to the industrialist and his wife asking the couple to deposit some money in cryptocurrency into a designated account, the needle of suspicion turned to Waze as the police officer was using that Scorpio for the past few months according to Hiran’s wife.

In the meantime, the story took a more dramatic turn. The investigation of the Scorpio’s mystery parking had been entrusted to Waze, the Crime Intelligence Chief, obviously by the police chief. The Scorpio was traced to Hiran, owner of “Car Décor” in Thane city. When confronted, Hiran said the car had been stolen on February 17 and he had reported the theft to the Vikhroli police.

The SUV was found outside the Ambani house on February 25. It was the duty of Waze to disclose to his seniors that he was a friend of Hiran and recuse himself from the investigation. He failed to do so. On March 5, when Hiran’s dead body was found floating in a creek adjoining the Thane suburb of Mumbra, his wife accused Waze of murdering her husband.

The NIA has taken over the investigation of the parked car with gelatin sticks from the state government’s Anti Terrorism Squad, which continues to investigate the suspicious death (now converted to murder) of Mansukh Hiran. It has come to light that the NIA alleges that the Scorpio had not been stolen, but a red herring was drawn by Hiran to help his friend. The car had been parked in Waze’s building compound for the week prior to its being found outside the Ambani home according to the NIA.

Further, the CCTV cameras and other connecting evidence appear to have been tampered with by the suspect. If these are indeed precursors to official revelations, the API’s goose appears to be cooked. He should come out with all the facts about his role in this drama. It would be to his advantage to do so since the cards are stacked against him. What could be most relevant for us to know is the motive for planting the car with the gelatin sticks and the threatening letter outside Ambani’s house.

The NIA took over the inquiry on the ground of a terrorist angle to the car being parked where it was found. A story of a terror cell, operated from the high security portion of Tihar jail in Delhi, by an inmate who was the right hand man of Yasin Bhatkal, the chief of Indian Mujahideen, has been told to justify the NIA’s intervention. Considering the level of credibility of the Union home ministry at present, this is a story that needs a thorough dissection. The BJP has axes to grind with Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena and a case like this one ensures sweet revenge.

Will this matter bring more senior police leaders under the scanner? Why was Waze reinstated? Why was he given such a sensitive post? Why was he not put on COVID-related duties, on which pretext he was reinstated? These questions need to be answered.

And finally, the moral of the story. Police leaders should dump “encounter specialists” because they are a danger to society. They are actually “criminals in uniform”.

This column first appeared in the print edition on March 18, 2021 under the title ‘A Scorpio on Altamount Road’. The writer, a retired IPS officer, was Mumbai police commissioner, DGP Gujarat and DGP Punjab, and is a former Indian ambassador to Romania

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