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Newsmaker | RB Sreekumar, a decorated cop on the wrong side of Modi govt

Sreekumar, who became Gujarat DGP after retirement, wrote affidavits to the Nanavati Commission alleging govt agencies’ complicity in the 2002 riots. On Friday, the Supreme Court called into question his role in the accusations.

Written by Leena Misra | Ahmedabad |
Updated: June 26, 2022 9:52:35 pm
Former Gujarat police chief RB Sreekumar. (Express photo by Prem Nath Pandey)

A decorated police officer, R B Sreekumar challenged the Narendra Modi government’s claims of peace in Gujarat in the aftermath of the 2002 riots, spoke of the alleged collusion between government agencies and rioters, and was shunted out and denied promotion while in service.

The Ahmedabad Detection of Crime Branch Saturday arrested the 75-year-old former Gujarat Director General of Police (DGP) from his home in Gandhinagar on charges such as forgery and criminal conspiracy. This came a day after the Supreme Court called into question his role in the petition against Modi in the riots. The court made the observation while upholding the clean chit Prime Minister Modi, then the chief minister of Gujarat, had received from a Special Investigation Team (SIT) in connection with the riots.

A 1971-batch IPS officer with roots in Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram, Modi appointed Sreekumar the Additional DGP (Intelligence) in April 2002. By then the state had been engulfed in communal riots following the burning of the Sabarmati Express train in Godhra on February 27. His first confrontation with the state government was when a report he presented to then Chief Election Commissioner J M Lyngdoh said 154 of Gujarat’s 182 constituencies had been affected by the riots and over one lakh people had been disenfranchised because of displacement. This countered the government’s claims that the environment was peaceful enough for Assembly elections.

Sreekumar was transferred out of CID (Intelligence) soon after he sent a report to the National Commission for Minorities in September 2002, pointing out “communal overtones” in Modi’s speech during a yatra. He was posted as ADGP (Police Reforms) and remained in the post till his retirement in 2007. While in service, Sreekumar filed four of his nine affidavits before the Justice (retired) G T Nanavati and Justice (retired) Akshay Mehta Commission that had been set up by the Gujarat government to probe the Godhra incident. In the affidavits, he claimed to have exposed “the alleged collusion of government agencies with rioters”.

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But the Nanavati-Mehta Commission chose to discard the evidence by Sreekumar, and fellow IPS officers Rahul Sharma and Sanjiv Bhatt, terming them as either “baseless”, “false”, or “not reliable”. Sharma took voluntary retirement from the police service and now practises law in Gujarat High Court while Bhatt was dismissed from service and is now in jail in connection with a 1996 narcotics case.

Fight for promotion

Following the submission of his affidavits and cross-examination before the Nanavati-Mehta Commission in 2004, Sreekumar was superseded in 2005 and missed out on a chance to become DGP while in service.

His petition to the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) challenging the government’s decision annexed a “secret diary” he maintained of alleged “illegal orders” given to him when he was the state intelligence chief. In 2005, the Gujarat government issued a departmental charge sheet to Sreekumar for “maintaining a private diary and making it official, taping conversation of a meeting with government official and leaking intelligence reports to the media among others”. The Supreme Court stayed the charge sheet in 2015.

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On the day of his retirement, February 28, 2007, the CAT ruled in favour of the police officer’s promotion but the state government challenged it before the High Court and then the Supreme Court. In 2008, the top court dismissed the government’s plea and Sreekumar was granted promotion to DGP rank with retrospective effect.

Beginning of a long career

Sreekumar did not last even a full year in any of his initial district postings in Gujarat, the longest stint being as Superintendent of Police (SP) of Mehsana district where he spent more than a year.

In 1979, he went on deputation to the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) and from 1980-’84 served as commandant of the CISF unit that supervised the security of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) in Thumba, Thiruvananthapuram. He returned to Gujarat to be posted as SP of Kheda and Kutch districts in the span of a year and after that was stationed as the Director of Security of the erstwhile Gujarat Electricity Board, which is now known as Gujarat Urja Vikas Nigam Ltd.

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His longest stint was in the Intelligence Bureau (IB) outside Gujarat, where he served in various capacities from 1987 to 1999. He was posted as deputy director at the IB headquarters in New Delhi till 1992, when he also got the police medal for meritorious service.

The same year, he was transferred as Deputy Director of the Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau (SIB), Thiruvananthapuram. In 1994, during his tenure there, an incident that came to be known as the ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) espionage case came to light. Sreekumar was part of an IB team deputed to “assist” the state police in investigating two cases filed under the Foreigners Act and the Official Secrets Act against two Maldivian women and two scientists at the VSSC for their alleged involvement in espionage activities. One of the accused in the case was ISRO scientist S Nambi Narayan who has accused the IB officers and others of torturing him and falsifying records to implicate him. In an FIR registered by the Central Bureau of Investigation, Sreekumar is among the 18 accused. Last year, the former police officer got bail from the Kerala High Court in the case.

In 1995, Sreekumar was promoted as joint director and the following year received the presidential medal for distinguished services.

Return to Gujarat

The police officer returned to Gujarat in 2000 when Keshubhai Patel was the chief minister and was promoted to ADGP (Armed Units) where he stayed till Modi put him in charge of the state intelligence department.

Following his retirement, Sreekumar chose to stay back in Gujarat to, in his words, “help riot victims”. He published a book on the 2002 riots, titled “Gujarat Behind the Curtain”, in 2015.

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Sreekumar holds a master’s degree in history from Kerala University — he topped the course — and also has a master’s degree in Gandhian thought, English literature, and criminology (LLM). In his book, he cites extensively verses from the Vedas, the Bhagavad Gita and even Shakespeare. In the book, he narrates how he offered himself as a willing witness to various investigating agencies to testify about the establishment’s alleged complicity in the riots and claimed to have been ready to undergo narco analysis and brain fingerprinting test. But his requests were ignored.

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First published on: 25-06-2022 at 11:24:20 pm

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