A popular restaurant packed with weekend diners in central Delhi had a horrific experience on Saturday night as the police gunned down a wanted criminal in their midst after a brief shootout.
At least 50 people, including customers and employees, were in the Rajender Nagar restaurant of South Indian food chain Sagar Ratna at 8.45pm when four special cell officers in plain clothes entered in pursuit of 33-year-old Manoj Vashist, wanted by the Delhi Police in around a dozen cheating cases.
According to the police, Vashist recognised the cops, whipped out a gun and fired a bullet at them but missed. One of the cops retaliated and hit Vashist near his waist. He was rushed to a nearby hospital but succumbed to his injury.
“We received information from an authentic source that Manoj Vashist would be coming to Sagar Ratna in the evening. Accordingly, a trap was laid to nab him. Our team members entered the restaurant after his entry. But Manoj identified our team and fired at them. One of our men retaliated in self-defence and fired a bullet that hit Manoj,” said special CP (special cell) SN Shrivastava.
The brief gunfight triggered panic among the customers, who scrambled to get out of the way. Many of them later told HT they thought it was a terrorist attack like the 26/11 Mumbai attack.
Calling it a staged encounter, Vashist’s family insisted he was not a dreaded criminal. His wife Priyanka, a zila panchayat member from Baghpat in Uttar Pradesh, told mediapersons there were a few cheating cases against him but that was not a valid reason to kill him in an encounter. She demanded a judicial probe into the incident.
However, the police said Vashist was a criminal who carried a cash reward. An FIR as per the Supreme Court’s order was being initiated in connection with the encounter.
“We are now examining CCTV footage at the restaurant to ascertain if Manoj was with other people who might have managed to escape during the chaos,” said a senior officer of the central district police.