The Shivani Bhatnagar murder case was as big a challenge for the media covering the case as it was for the cops. Both had one from their fraternity involved in it.
Shivani was a Principal Correspondent with the Indian Express. Ravi Kant Sharma was a 1976 batch IPS officer. The case was a potent mix of intrigue, deception, lies and having an investigative journalist and an IPS officer in its lead roles.
The case hit the headlines once again when in July 2002, the Delhi Police crime branch cracked the case and made the first arrest. What followed was a cat and mouse game between the cops and Sharma who were on his trail.
The Delhi Police put all possible resources at their disposal but Sharma continued to evade them. The chase, one of the longest and most-intense and dramatic in police history, finally finished on September 27 that year when Sharma surrender in Ambala.
Hindustan Times compiles some of the interesting details of Delhi Police's nearly two-month long chase to nab Sharma and what subsequently happened when he was in Crime Branch's custody in Adarsh Nagar.
Tip-off that helped him escape
Sri Bhagwan was the first to be arrested on July 23, 2002. On August 1, Sharma proceeded on leave. Early morning on August 3, Delhi Police raided Sharma's residence. While the police team had reached Sharma's residence at around 6:45 am., he had left in a private vehicle at 6:10 am. The 35-minute gap between them reaching his house and Sharma leaving the place made the Delhi Police suspicious. Delhi Police had alleged the Haryana Police had leaked information about the raid to Sharma.
The Delhi Police teams had met the SP, Chandigarh at around 5 am to get Haryana Police's cooperation. "The guards posted outside Sharma's residence were from Haryana Police. Their top brass had to be informed before entering Sharma's house. However, between 5 and 6 am. information was leaked to Sharma," senior officers had alleged at that time.
Minister of State for Home, ID Swami had told this correspondent in an interview in September 2002 that Sharma being tipped by someone about the raid could not be ruled out as there might be sub-inspectors, head constables, constables who might have sympathy for him.
Sharma's car spotted in Delhi
As the entire Delhi Police machinery was being channelised to nab Sharma his car, a Ford Ikon, was spotted in Delhi on the night of August 4-5. Senior officers got into action as messages were transmitted on the wireless. Sharma's vehicle was spotted parked outside a five-star hotel. The Haryana registration number tallied. A person who had seen Sharma in the car had apparently tipped the police from the hotel. All checkposts were alerted. But by the time police reached the hotel, the car was missing. Messages were flashed to all police stations, hotels and bars checked, orders passed that howsoever senior officer the person might claim to be, the car has to be stopped. An impromptu award too was announced for the police station, which seizes the vehicle and arrests Sharma. However, Sharma again managed to elude the cops.
Peptalk for the Crime Branch
Weeks passed by but police had no clue about Sharma. There was a rumour that Sharma had been given shelter by a top Haryana politician. In the third week of August 2002, the then Joint Commissioner of the crime branch called a meeting of all senior officers of his unit. The then additional CP, DCP and all 17 ACP's were summoned. They were told that their failure to arrest Sharma had become a big embarrassment for the force.
Hunt enters sixth week
From the first arrest in July to the raid on Sharma' house on August 3rd, Delhi Police had failed to track the elusive IPS officer and it was the third week of September. Senior officers were then struck with the thought that Sharma might have changed his appearance. Internally the crime branch circulated a confidential document, which had various portraits of Sharma and how he would look when he would have changed his appearance.
Sharma’s French googly
When Sharma's wife and daughter would meet him in police custody they would talk in French t keep their conversations secret. But when the family would come, a Crime Branch constable would be present. Once the police custody was over, Delhi Police came up with a revelation. The constable present during the meetings was no buffoon though he would behave like one. This man was an expert in French and would carefully listen to every word that was spoken between Sharma and his family.
Ice creams for Sharma
Having a senior IPS officer in their custody was never going to be easy for the Crime Branch. Police were on the back foot when Sharma's family alleged despite knowing very well that Sharma was a Brahmin he was being given egg. Police denied the claims.
The next googly from Sharma was when he cited some problem in his mouth and a concerned Delhi Police offered him ice creams and kheer.
Shlokas stump interrogators
When the pressure of interrogation would become too much to handle, Sharma would start reciting shlokas from Bhagwat Gita. When no one understood what he was saying, Sharma would translate them into Hindi.
Delhi Police also ensured that the entire interrogation was being recorded on video to counter allegations later that they tortured him in custody.
Complained to Minister
Swami had in an interview with this correspondent in September 2002 said, "Sharma felt K.K. Paul was after him." Paul had investigated the case as joint commissioner, crime branch. "Sharma was relaxed when Paul was promoted because it meant that Paul was taken out of the investigation. Sharma came to see me in 2001. He said some Delhi Police officers were making things difficult for him," Swami had said.
Swami knew Sharma very well. "His father was a Punjab Civil Services officer. He later became a promotee IAS. He was my colleague."
Swami had also informed at that time that Paul had briefed him earlier that they would have solved the case had the information not leaked out in the media.