YP Singh, former IPS officer and practising lawyer in the Bombay High Court, says it was a mistake on the part of the Mumbai police to rely on encounters as a way of curtailing crime, and that their corruption eventually led to their decline. Excerpts from an interview.
What led to the fall of encounter specialists?
Too much of corruption, to be precise. The encounter specialists became too big and started taking contracts for supari killings at the behest of gangs (in order to eliminate a gang’s rivals). They found themselves in a soup later.
What made them encounter specialists in the first place?
The desire of senior officers to stop shootouts. They gave them a free hand. It all began in the late 1990s, when shootouts became rampant.
The desire to find short-cuts and short-term solutions made the seniors give encounter specialists extra-judicial powers. In the process, the encounter specialists became Frankenstein’s monsters.
Is it true that these cops were used and later dumped by senior IPS officers?
It is true that the seniors used them to carry out fake encounters. Encounter specialists got very close to certain IPS officers. But when the people who used them to collect ransom retired, there was no one to protect them. The new incumbents dumped them.
When did the decline begin?
In 1995-96, an inquiry was instituted by a sessions judge to look into police encounters and their genuineness. It gave the encounter specialists a clean chit. But by 2003-04, the decline set in. The number of gangsters reduced substantially, and the fringe operatives could hardly raise their heads. Moreover, MCOCA led to a lot of underworld operatives going behind bars.
Do you think it was a mistake to rely upon encounters to reduce crime?
Yes, we did commit a mistake. Because if you don’t follow the law for short-term gains, lawlessness will prevail. The conventional method of bringing in stringent statutory provisions would have curtailed gangland activities more effectively.