Had it not been for one “lucky break", the police team investigating the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts would probably not have managed to nail the Memon family. That break came in the form of an abandoned maroon Maruti van, which linked the blasts to underworld don Tiger Memon's immediate family.
Recalling how the police chanced upon this vital clue, the then investigating officer KL Bishnoi says: “I was in my office in Worli when I was informed about the blasts. At around 3.30 pm, the control room got a call from a security guard at Siemens Company that a group of four to five people had abandoned a Maruti van seconds after the blast at Century Bazar."
A police patrol van was rushed to the spot. A search of the car yielded a cache of arms and ammunition and a photocopy of the car ownership papers. The vehicle was registered in the name of a female member of the Memon family. Along with a photograph, the document had the owner’s residential address, says Bishnoi.
“The rear window was cracked and the engine was ticking, indicating that it had been running till sometime ago,” Bishnoi, who is now the Additional Commissioner of Police, Northeast, adds.
After investigations, it became clear that the people travelling in the van had been on their way to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation office to kill several Shiv Sena and BJP corporators on their hitlist.
According to Bishnoi, there could be two reasons why the occupants abandoned their mission mid-way and abandoned the van. “They may have panicked. They had passed the Century Mills Compound seconds after the blast there and did not want to get caught with the weapons in the traffic jam.”
Another reason, Bishnoi says, could be that the group was unaware or confused about the time of the blast or they might have thought that the car might explode due to the blast. “The papers were left inside the car by accident,” Bishnoi adds.
Close to midnight, a police team led by Bishnoi and the then Joint Commissioner of Police YC Pawar reached the Al Hussani building — the Memon residence. “We entered the second floor apartment easily as the door was not properly locked. The occupants were missing but they had left enough proof to clearly indicate that the Memons were all conspirators. We found a few family albums confirming the identity of the car owner.”
Bishnoi says the Memons had managed to flee to Dubai the previous day but “within a month's time, we were able to arrest more than 80 alleged bomb-makers and helpers”. The rest, as they say, is history.
Serial blasts killed 257 people on March 12, 1993. On Tuesday, a TADA court convicted four members of the Memon family.