Why police team did not wear bulletproof jackets in Batla House encounter
Twelve years later, the officer who spearheaded the anti-terrorist operation has claimed to provide some of the answers in his book, Batla House: An Encounter That Shook the Nation.Updated: Sep 08, 2020, 08:52 IST
Why did the Delhi Police team that raided the flat at Batla House in an anti-terror operation on September 19, 2008 not wear bulletproof jackets? The shootout in which a police officer died had sparked a major controversy and became a political issue.
Karnal Singh, the Delhi Police officer who led the operation years ago, now claims to provide some answers in his book Batla House: An Encounter That Shook The Nation.
An IPS officer of the 1984 batch, Singh, who is now retired, was Joint Commissioner of Police in the Special Cell at that time, reveals what happened inside flat number 108 at L-18 Batla House that morning and why Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma who was killed in the operation, and his team did not wear bulletproof jackets and how the encounter was given a political colour despite irrefutable evidence against the Indian Mujahideen (IM) members.
In his book, Singh says that his team had managed to piece together by September 18, 2008, a day before the encounter, that a number used by slain terrorist Mohammad Atif Ameen was key to solving the conspiracy was key to solving a conspiracy behind a string of blasts in Jaipur (May 13, 2008) and Ahmedabad (July 26, 2008) and the serial blasts on September 13, 2008 in Delhi’s Karol Bagh, Connaught Place and Greater Kailash.
After it was established by the evening that Atif Ameen was a “person of interest”, Karnal Singh ordered the team to capture him alive.
On September 18 evening, a small team was sent to Batla House to conduct a reconnaissance and familiarize themselves with the Batla House area.
“The team was unanimous in its decision to raid Atif’s location – L-18 Batla House. The crucial question was, when? It was the month of Ramadan and, hence, it was not advisable to search in the evening or night. Mohan suggested that we should search Batla House during daytime since this is the time when they would be resting at home,” writes Singh.
Two teams were formed for September 19. Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma led an 18-member team while DCP Sanjeev Yadav (ACP at that time) led the second team. Singh recalls Sharma’s son was hospitalized that day due to dengue but the slain Inspector put his duty first.
He writes that most of the officers in the team, including Inspector Rahul, Dharmender and others had returned late that night or early morning on September 19 from other states after working on different inputs.
“They all had familial responsibilities, emotionally strained spouses (rightly so), and children or/and older parents to be taken care of, among other things, but when it came to the call of duty, everything was secondary. This was my team. And we were ready for the Batla House operation,” writes Singh.
Seconds before the raid was to start, around 11 am on September 19, Singh got a call from Sharma who said – “Sir, there are people inside L-18. We are going in”.
“After about 10 minutes, my phone rang. This time it was Sanjeev (Yadav). ‘Sir, Mohan and Head Constable Balwant have been shot and are being shifted to hospital. The terrorists are also injured but they are inside the house’. His voice was choking, as if he was in tears”.
This is when Singh himself and then Special Cell DCP Alok Kumar also rushed to Batla House while directing Yadav to contain the terrorists.
Terming his walk as the “one of most tense moments of his career”, Singh writes, “I could sense animosity for the Delhi Police in the by-lanes”, as a huge crowd had gathered in the area shouting slogans against the department.
On reaching the flat, Singh asked his team to explain the sequence of events. “Rahul explained that Mohan was leading the front team. All the team members, except Dharmender, were asked by Mohan to be in casual wear. This was done to ensure even if the target was not found in the apartment, the team could withdraw without anyone knowing about their presence or the search”.
“That was also the reason why none of the team members were wearing bullet-proof jackets,’ adds Singh.
The terrorists had fired indiscriminately at the first team due to which Sharma was hit by two bullets from the front. Head Constable Balwant was also received a bullet injury but he survived.
Singh, who also headed the Enforcement Directorate (ED), says that Sharma’s team had parked their vehicles near the Khalilullah Mosque, which had bullet-proof vests and AK-47 rifles. Sharma’s team carried only small arms with them to the L-18 flat.
Singh adds that when he came to know about Sharma’s death at Holy Family hospital, “I walked towards him, put my palm over his forehead and tears started flowing from my eyes. The very life of the Special Cell, the man whose investigation yielded us results, the one who could beat any encrypted message and intercept any call, the one whose network of human intelligence was immaculate, was lying there connected to machines and wires,” writes Singh.
Singh recalls how the encounter was given a political colour and even the media was publishing unverified claims by witnesses, making Special Cell the “biggest villain”. Leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav, Amar Singh, Mamata Banerjee and others had sought a judicial enquiry questioning the genuineness of the encounter.
However, after the evidence was shown to then minister Kapil Sibal, he was convinced that it was a genuine encounter. Singh recalls that during the February 22, 2009 ‘At Home’ function of Delhi Police, then PM Manmohan Singh had told him – “You have done a good job”.
“The Batla House encounter became a historic event in the fight against terrorism. It caused a critical blow to Indian Mujahideen, as it neutralized its key members and broke the backbone of its network in India. We lost one of the most intelligent and brave officers, whose findings led us to the core IM members. The work done by all the Special Cell personnel helped crack the bomb blast cases and neutralize the threat from this terror group that had caused many blasts across the country between 2004 and 2008, causing injuries to 765 people and killing 239 innocent men, women and children,” he writes.
“This case stirred a political storm, instigated a witch-hunt against Special Cell officers, divided public opinion and became a raging controversial topic in the media that continues till date.”