The Mumbai police had zealously protected the prime witness in the Gateway blast case of August 25, 2003.
The deposition of the taxi driver, Shivnarayan Pandey, had nailed the mastermind of the blast, Mohammad Hanif and his wife, who had planted the improvised explosive device in his taxi after getting off at the Gateway of India.
Senior inspector Vinayak Saude and former encounter specialist Vijay Salaskar, who was killed in the November 26, 2008, terror attacks, took care of Pandey for more than three years until he made his final deposition in court.
Saude talks about what goes into protecting a crucial witness.
Why did the police decide that the witness in the Gateway case needed protection?
In the past, some witnesses had turned hostile following pressure from the accused. We had to be doubly careful in this case because he was the sole witness and the outcome of the trial depended on him.
How did you protect Pandey?
We immediately shifted his location because journalists began hounding him. His taxi was completely destroyed in the blast, so we got private firms to employ him as a driver. We gave him different names and made him change jobs frequently so that nobody got too friendly with him. His employers had no idea about his past.
Did you face any difficulties?
Money was never a problem because the department had made the necessary arrangements. The employment part was taken care of by our sources and friends.
Did he ever show signs of pulling out?
Not once. Even while protecting his identity, we never interfered with his liberty. He always felt safe and secure because we were friends to him, not policemen.
What is he doing now?
He is back at his village in Uttar Pradesh. His sons are in Mumbai. The Shiv Sena had given him Rs5 lakh for his bravery. He has deposited that money in the bank and is using the interest as pension.
How necessary is it to have a witness protection scheme?
It will ease the burden of the police and help increase the conviction rate. However, the most important aspect is that the investigating officer should win the confidence of the witness.