Every call made to their cellphone is met with deafening silence. Only if the caller's voice is familiar the call is taken. They never meet you at the scheduled time and place, they usually decide the details of the rendezvous at the last minute and do not stay at a place longer than ten minutes.
Thirtysix-year-old Salim Sartaz and his younger brother Siraz run a decently successful paper-products manufacturing business but that is only a part-time vocation. They have earned their reputation and "some" money through an alternate career that involves scavenging the dark alleys of the underworld for "actionable" information, which so far has led to the gunning down of 45 dreaded gangsters from all major gangs. Salim and Siraj are police informers and considered to be one of the best, according to the department's encounter specialists.
For men like them who swear by secrecy and anonymity, their request to give their real names and print photographs come as a surprise. But their insistence, clarifies Salim, is borne out of their frustration that the police department they have served till now "summarily" withdrew security (a carbine-wielding gunman shadowing them since last 15 months) given to them till last Saturday and left them to their "destined doom".
Two days after the gunman stopped coming to their Mumbra residence, on Monday, another police informer Amjad Khan (42) and his associate Homanshu Chaudhary (30s) were shot dead metres away from the city and the sessions civil court in South Mumbai.
"Paintalis gangsters ko humney upar bhijwaya…will not the underworld eliminate us now that we have no security?" asked an agitated Siraj
Salim is sad about Amjad's fate, but is chillingly pragmatic: "He is dead and matters no more. We have served the police and country, but we are left to die," he rued.
According to him, the Mumbra police, under whose jurisdiction their residence lies, withdrew security on the "wrong ground that we already have protection from Navi Mumbai police".
Among the big hits -- "operations" -- these informers have pulled off till now, include, the gunning down of Chotta Rajan shooters Razzak Kashmiri, Hari Shamrao Kadam, Ganesh Ramakant Salvi and Pappu Pathan and two others, Ashwin Naik's shooter Shashikant Sagvekar, Suresh Manchekar gang's Hari Kadam, in police encounters since 1993. "Hari Kadam," claimed Salim, "had in fact been tasked by Manchekar to kill Thane police's previous police commissioner Bhujanrao Mohite".
The brothers run a network of around two dozen petty criminals doubling up as informers that tail gangsters. Salim's information also led to arrest of two SIMI activists, Sohaib and Minaz Nachen, arrested in August by Thane police in the 11/7 blasts case who were later handed over to Anti Terrorist Squad.
When HT spoke to Senior Police Inspector Praful Joshi, PRO to Thane' Police Commissioner D Shivanandhan, he said, "I do not want to comment on this issue as we don't want to talk about our informers". Another police officer, requesting anonymity, dismissed the brothers's worries by saying, "We give informers money and they are aware of the inherent dangers involved. What do we do?"