It was just another day at work in The Statesman reporting section when the air crackled with what seemed like gunshots a little after noon on March 31, 1997. Crackers, a little out of time and season, most of us reasoned in silent understanding. It was then that a peon rushed in. "Terrorists have been killed by the police,” he cried.
All of us ran down and out into the Outer Circle of Connaught Place. Opposite Gopal Dass Building, cordoned off by gun-toting men, obviously of khaki lineage, was a solitary car. We pushed our way through the milling crowd to the car to confront what most of us had never seen before: a dead man in the driver’s seat of a blue Maruti Esteem, blood oozing from his mouth, half hanging out of the car.
Next to him was another man, the blood flowing, but head firmly on the headrest of the front passenger seat. The windscreen of the car and the driver’s window was a shattered mess. There was a pistol in the car.
The man of the moment, Assistant Commissioner of Police (Crime Branch) SS Rathi, stood tall, declaring the death of notorious Uttar Pradesh gangster Yaseen in a failed robbery attempt at the Dena Bank branch just opposite Super Bazar, a few metres away. He identified the person in the driver’s seat as Yaseen. Rathi’s Yaseen later turned out to be businessman Pradeep Goyal. The other man, later identified as Goyal’s friend Jagjit Singh, was called Yaseen’s accomplice. Rathi then pointed to the alleged third member of Yaseen’s gang: Held firmly by Rathi’s men, a shell-shocked Tarun had somehow survived.
Pointing to the pistol in the car, Rathi said the men had opened fire when challenged, and were killed in the exchange that ensued. There was money in the car, from a withdrawal by Goyal from Dena Bank.
Rathi’s story appeared strange even at first. Three notorious criminals with one gun? A stoic silence descended on Rathi as a colleague whispered something. Rathi then looked hard at a man standing close to Tarun, who we later came to believe was the informer on Yaseen.
The ACP’s face turned dark as he commenced a retreat from the spot, refusing to answer any queries. A frenzy of messages broke out on the police wireless even as policemen from the Connaught Place Police Station, led by Station House Officer Hanuman Singh, reached the spot. A police control room (PCR) van then reached the spot and the two bodies were bundled into it. Tarun was dumped into the back of the PCR van, much like a garbage bag. Minutes later, the CP police took control of the spot and Rathi and his team silently vanished from the spot.
It was only in the evening when Goyal’s family reached Parliament Street Police Station, where then Commissioner of Police Nikhil Kumar was holding a press conference, that the story concocted by the police shone through the day’s drama. Two innocent people had been shot down by the protectors of the law in the heart of the city.