Pradeep Sharma’s arrest was the last blow to the once-fabled team of ‘encounter specialists’ of the Andheri Crime Intelligence Unit (CIU). Sharma led the unit at the height of the underworld menace during the late 1990s and the early 2000s.
The team that became famous for killing a large number of gangsters — Sharma alone is credited with 107 ‘encounters’ — later became part of the police’s hall of shame. Four of the team’s six members were either dismissed or suspended on charges ranging from murder to corruption.
While Sharma was dismissed in 2008 for links with the underworld, Police Sub-Inspector Daya Nayak was arrested and suspended for corruption. Inspector Aslam Momin was dismissed for underworld links, while Assistant Police Inspector Sachin Vaze was dismissed for the custodial death of Ghatkopar blast accused Khwaja Yunus.
Assistant Police Inspector Sanjeev Gawde is with the Crime Branch’s Unit 12 at Dahisar, while Inspector Prakash Bhandari is with the Criminal Investigation Department.
Sharma was transferred to the Andheri CIU in 1997. Former Mumbai police commissioner R.D. Tyagi also set up CIUs at Andheri, Chembur and at the police headquarters in 1994 to keep tabs on an underworld fast gaining ground after the 1993 serial blasts.
The team soon gained a reputation for its operational style and informant network.
Around 1999, the team was given a virtual carte blanche and the best equipment for its operations. “Nobody asked whether they were following legal procedures, neither did the team care to follow any standing order or manual,” said a retired Crime Branch officer, on condition of anonymity.
The administration eventually realised its mistake and then police commissioner M.N. Singh disbanded the Andheri CIU in 2002. However, its members continued to function like before.
Yunus’ death was the last straw. Vaze was the first to go, followed by Momin’s dismissal. Nayak was arrested in a disproportionate assets case. Sharma’s dismissal was the final nail in the coffin for the team that was once featured in Time magazine, its members compared to the Hollywood character Dirty Harry, played by Clint Eastwood.