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Delhi Police's super SHOs

Villain to the man on the street, a necessary evil to his superiors and a hero albeit of dubious credentials to his friends and family, writes Archis Mohan and Mayank Tewari.

india Updated: Mar 05, 2006 03:29 IST

Villain to the man on the street, a necessary evil to his superiors and a hero albeit of dubious credentials to his friends and family — in public discourse the Delhi Police SHO is synonymous with all the ills that beset the force today.

Acquittal of all the nine accused in the Jessica Lal murder case has brought this tribe, particularly the case’s investigating officer Inspector Surender Sharma, much bad press. It’s a perception that senior Delhi Police officers have encouraged, at the cost of coming across as powerless themselves.

Sharma belongs to a set of inspectors known within Delhi Police as ‘Super SHOs’ — a breed of inspectors who are unscrupulous, corrupt but tolerated for their aptitude to deliver and who survive with help from their strong political links.

This bunch of two dozen odd inspectors are always posted to ‘sensitive’, also considered lucrative, police stations (PS) like Connaught Place, Paharganj, Karol Bagh, Mehrauli, Hauz Khas and some others.

Sharma at the time of Jessica Lal’s murder was SHO, Mehrauli PS. Later, he did a stint at Malviya Nagar and was until last week SHO, Hauz Khas PS.

He was transferred to the security unit after the media pressure. But most believe Sharma will be back soon, heading a lucrative police station yet again.

Who is a Super SHO

Every Delhi Police officer can serve in a district posting for a maximum of six years.

In this time he could be in any one of the nine districts of the city. The tenure is further divided into three postings— A, B and C — in order of sensitivity. One can serve in category A for a maximum of three years.

Super SHOs are inspectors who have been able to serve in A category postings for more than six years. The term Super SHO is the unofficial title given to them in Delhi Police circles.

Dear Sir, I am the boss here Super SHOs’ have tremendous bounce back ability. Some like Inspectors VK Malhotra and Ishwar Singh —charged in disproportionate assets case by the CBI recently — do find themselves in the dog house at times, but this is temporary.

Sample this: In the mid-1990s, a newly appointed Commissioner of Police transferred some SHOs. The list included Inspector Shiv Sundar Sharma, SHO Bardarpur PS. The incensed inspector walked upto the CP, told him to his face that he would be back. Within a week, Sharma became SHO, Badarpur PS.

In their candid moments, districts DCP concede their helplessness to challenge the order. Most leave the running of the district to the SHOs with a warning — “do not let a complaint reach me, or I will have to take action.”

Sometimes the DCPs can be quite powerless. In April 2004, Inspector Rajinder Bakshi, SHO Hauz Khaz PS had a spat with the then DCP (South district) Vivek Gogia.

The inspector, ‘resigned’ on the wireless set saying he had been humiliated. One would have expected a disciplinary inquiry against the junior officer. But Bakshi was transferred to the Crime against Women cell, and posted as an SHO within a year. What’s more, Bakshi had relayed the wireless message sitting inside the house of another DCP.

SHO as 'ustad'

The origins of the Super SHOs can be traced to 1950s and 60s. This was the time when many non-Delhi and non-Punjabi IPS officers entered Delhi Police. There soon emerged a ‘May I Help You Squad’ — a set of bright sub inspectors who acquainted the IPS officers with the rules of the game in Delhi. These sub inspectors acted as 'readers', and soon graduated to SHOs.

Most successful IPS officers had a competent ‘ustad’. Pandit Hari Dev and Atma Ram Thakur taught the ground level functioning to young IPS officers who went on to became CPs. ACP Gurbax Lal Mehta, respected for his grasp of Delhi Police, is another such name.

“You don't get policemen like Dev and Mehta anymore. The flip side of this is that good investigators and policemen who can diffuse crises mature with time. An embattled CP is more likely to turn to a troubleshooter, even if he is of doubtful integrity, than to an honest inspector who does not understand the field level mechanics," says a DCP.

Robin Hood of the neighbourhood

There is another important job requirement for an SHO: giving a cloak of invisiblity to corruption. Illegal construction, illegal parking, illegal shops, patri shops and unauthorised taxi stands are the primary sources of illegal funds. The task of a clever SHO is to ensure that the food chain is kept intact without things ever getting out of hand.

“A clever SHO is the need of the hour. He should be able to keep his seniors happy by meeting their requirements. At the same time, he should give the impression of a public friendly force. For example, if your wife’s chain has been snatched, a clever SHO will visit your house, get a female sub inspector to talk to your wife, note down all the details and make a spot visit. However he will casually mention that a complaint will do and there is no need for an FIR,” said a retired Special Commissioner of Delhi Police.

What's in it for the SHO

By all accounts, the job of SHO is a demanding one. In a nutshell, he has to keep everyone happy — his bosses, influential people living in the jurisdiction of his police station, the public at large and even criminals who act as sources. “Policing has changed. There are tremendous pressures. Delhi has become a complex society. Only an intelligent person can survive as an SHO. We end up working 18 hours a day,” says a serving SHO. Corruption is incentive to him.