Gujarat’s infamous Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) went dormant after making headlines for all the wrong reasons, but it appears to have woken up from its years-long slumber.
After making no arrests between 2011 and May 2015, the Gujarat ATS came back with a bang , arresting 30 people in myriad cases from arson to murder and drugs in the past one year.
At its worst, the special police force was ensnared in a number of controversies, including the alleged fake encounters of gangster Sohrabuddin Sheikh , his wife Kausar Bi and associate Tulsi Prajapati in 2005. However, its first brush with infamy was a year earlier over the killings of Mumbai college student Ishrat Jahan along with three men.
The team faced accusations of being “trigger-happy” and many of its top officers were jailed. Even Amit Shah, the then Gujarat home minister and now BJP chief — was implicated, jailed and banished from the state for a while before being exonerated.
“Eventually our network of sources and informers dried up,” said an officer. “We became the ultimate fall guys, particularly after the Ishrat Jahan case was handed over to CBI in 2011.”
After spending years behind bars, most of the accused officers are now out on bail and a few have even been reinstated. This, ATS officials say, has boosted the morale of the 40-member team after hitting rock bottom.
“Top-ranking officers languishing in jail without a hearing for seven years had affected the morale of Gujarat Police... Their reinstatement have lifted the spirit of policemen,” said another officer.
Virtually back from the dead, the squad went back to the basics. “In the last one year or so, we have strengthened our network,” ATS SP Himangshu Shukla said. “By combining technology with human intelligence, we have been able to make many arrests in important cases.”
Its recent triumphs include the arrests of Faruq Bhana — who was sought for setting alight a train in Godhra in 2002 that killed scores of pilgrims and set off communal riots, and Karthik Halder — who was wanted for the murder of three witnesses in rape cases against Asaram.
This turn of fortune, they hope, resurrects the credibility the squad, lost after the arrest of high-profile officers such as DIG DG Vanzara and SP Rajkumar Pandian.