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Shoot, but don’t kill: How Odisha cops got the better of criminals

Unlike their counterparts in Maharashtra, police here say the motive is never to kill and that they only aim at lower limbs of criminals to injure them.

india Updated: Sep 14, 2017 10:56 IST
Debabrata Mohanty
Debabrata Mohanty
Hindustan Times
Odisha,Police encounters,Odisha police
Gangster Souri Nahak is admitted to a hospital after police fired at his legs during an encounter. (HT Photo)

When it comes to police encounters, southern Odisha’s Ganjam district has a unique “kill rate”. Unlike their counterparts in Maharashtra, who have virtually wiped out the Mumbai underworld and been glorified in Bollywood flicks like ‘Ab Tak Chhappan’, policemen here prefer to avoid blood on their hands.

Take the case of gangster Souri Nahak and his associate Mitu Pradhan, who after firing at a civil contractor the previous night were fleeing on a motorcycle in the wee hours of September 11. The plan was to escape to Chennai, but inspector BN Swain and his team from Khallikote police station intercepted the duo on a nondescript road.

A history-sheeter from Khallikote block, Nahak and his gang had nearly 50 cases against them, mostly dacoity and property-related offences. When challenged, the duo fired at the police team. The cops retaliated, but ensured the bullets were aimed only at the lower limbs of the criminals.

In Ganjam, there have been 28 such encounters since last April in which 32 antisocial elements received bullets in their lower limbs, with some becoming invalid for life.

On the other side, 25 policemen have been injured in these encounters, but with comparatively lesser injuries.

“The motive is never to kill. Our forces have fired below the waist only when they have been fired at. Self-defence is the only criteria,” says Ashis Singh, SP of Ganjam and Berhampur. There have been 7 such encounters in Puri and Cuttack districts in the last one year.

“Who would want to spoil his career by killing a criminal and getting entangled in court cases? Hardened criminals don’t mind going to jail for a few months and then come back to commit another crime. So the best way to deter them is to injure them in encounters,” said a senior police official who did not want to be named.

Low kill rate, high efficiency
Since the encounters started, police have arrested over 200 hardened criminals

Until last April, criminals had a free run in Ganjam, the most violent district of the state and also chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s pocketborough. Their reign of terror mostly targeted liquor traders and realtors.

Ramesh Jena, former Congress MLA from Sanakhemundi constituency, is said to be the biggest gangster with at least 200 members involved in extortion. Jena, who has over 50 cases against him, including murder, extortion, kidnapping, illegal arms and sheltering criminals, allegedly lords over an empire of worth Rs 300 crore.

The encounters in Ganjam started in April last year, a month after Jena was arrested in a case of extortion of a Berhampur-based jeweller. In the following months, two of his gang members were seriously injured in encounters, leading to the arrest of several more.

“The criminals never thought that we would injure them fatally leading to amputation of legs,” said Shantanu Das, sub-divisional police officer in Berhampur town.

Since the encounters started, 3,300 antisocials, including 200-odd hardened criminals accused of serious crimes, have been arrested in the district. To ensure that those who get bail don’t go back to their old ways, the cops have ensured the anti-socials report to the nearest police station once a week.

“In case they don’t report, we have asked one member of his family to stand guarantee. The fear of getting encountered surely has instilled a sense of fear,” said an inspector of a police station.

While traders and businessmen are breathing easy now, family members of two of the gang members who were ‘encountered’ have moved the Odisha Human Rights Commission against the police methods. Sanju Nahak, whose husband Shouri is now lying in a hospital with bullets in his legs, insists that the encounter was a ‘staged’ one.

First Published: Sep 14, 2017 00:14 IST