After nearly a decade of shootouts and ‘hot-pursuits’ of terrorists and gangsters, Delhi Police have had an encounter-free 2009.
Police records available since 1998 suggest there has not been a single year when an encounter hasn’t taken place in Delhi.
Insiders in the police department said there had been a “marked change in the police strategy” on pursuing high-risk criminals following the Batla House shoot-out and the subsequent controversy.
“Go-slow orders were then issued,” a source said, requesting anonymity. “Get your man without opening fire, officers were clearly told.”
Encounters have always been controversial, be it the Connaught Place or Ansal Plaza shootouts. Police have drawn flak from human rights groups who have termed them as ‘extra-judicial killings’.
But the furore after the Batla House encounter shook the police top brass. Senior officers said after losing one of their best officers and tracking down the men who were subsequently held responsible for every major blast since 2005, they did not expect such hostile reaction.
“It’s a peculiar situation…not even a single encounter the whole year. Delhi has never been bereft of criminal activity…it has traditionally seen high movement of militants and gangsters,” said Ajai Raj Sharma, former Delhi Police commissioner.
The Capital, statistics reveal, was still very much on the hit list of criminals and the police performed their job well: 20 terrorists and over 70 gangsters were arrested in 2009. But what changed was the police approach while going after high-value targets. “This could be a direct fallout of the Batla House case,” Sharma said.
“There were times when it was decided to wait for a better opportunity even after cornering a criminal than to risk the chance of an exchange of fire. There is always going to be a second chance so better wait for that,” said an officer, with over a dozen kills to his name, on condition of anonymity.
“There were clear-cut verbal instructions from seniors to lay off. Officers were asked to be cautious while going after high-risk criminals,” he said.
“It appears (Delhi) police officers, unsure of support of the system and civil society, are shying away from taking the risks which are necessary for national and public good,” said A.K. Doval, former director, Intelligence Bureau.
Denying that any “go-slow” orders were issued, P.N. Aggarwal, joint commissioner, special cell, said, “An encounter takes place when a criminal fires at the police. How can such instructions be issued? One reacts on the basis of what happens on the spot,” he said.
Sharma thinks otherwise. “It’s an obvious reaction…if people are after you, why would anyone take such risks. 2009 has certainly been a rare year in terms of encounters,” he said.