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The two women who dared to speak up

The state governments desperately wanted them out of the investigations but the courts reinstated them, report Gigil Varghese & Ketaki Ghoge.

india Updated: May 06, 2007 01:04 IST

Police officers Dr Pradnya Saravade and Geetha Johri, the former in Maharashtra and the latter in Gujarat, were threatening to blow the lid off widespread corruption and illegal conduct that could have implicated their state governments. The state governments desperately wanted them out of the investigations. The courts reinstated them.

That, in a nutshell, is what happened. But who are these women, and why did the governments want so desperately to see the back of them?

Saravade, additional commissioner of police with the Anti-Corruption Bureau in Mumbai, was sidelined by the Maharashtra government when she was scrutinising complaints of large-scale corruption in an ambitious state government scheme to re-house millions of slum dwellers in a city where land is the most precious commodity. Six months ago, the bureau asked the state government for a special team to investigate 26 complaints against the Slum Rehabilitation Authority, a government body that the chief minister heads. The government rejected this request. Today the complaints have swelled to nearly 300.

A surgeon trained at Grant Medical College in Mumbai, Saravade began her career in the police force in 1989. She has a reputation of being an upright, no-nonsense officer. In her previous positions, she has investigated the stock market scam involving Harshad Mehta, cases of human trafficking, cyber crimes, violations of intellectual property rights and counterfeiting. She was instrumental in setting up the city’s cyber crime cell.

Geetha Johri, who joined the police force in 1982, is inspector general of police in Gujarat. She was investigating allegations that Sohrabuddin Sheikh and his wife Kausar Bi had been killed in fake encounters in a state where Muslims live in constant insecurity after the state-sanctioned pogrom against them five years ago.

Her team’s investigation, initiated after a Supreme Court directive, led to four meticulous reports that pin down Gujarat’s Anti Terrorist Squad’s staging of a fake encounter with Sheikh on November 26, 2005. The reports also raised a question about Kausar Bi’s disappearance. The reports hinted that the state government had colluded in the encounter. Anticipating interference from the government, Johri also sent a copy of her report to the assistant registrar of the Supreme Court.

Is it a wonder that the state governments tried to sideline these women?