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Mumbai's crack-shot cops back in biz

Stung by 11/7, police have brought back some of notorious sharpshooters.

india Updated: Jul 24, 2006 14:58 IST

Time magazine called them the "Dirty Harrys of Mumbai". They have also inspired Bollywood movies, thanks to their action-packed real life scripts that extolled the thrills and dangers of these once fearsome Mumbai Police gunfight specialists.

The fabled and, sometimes notorious, sharpshooters of Mumbai Police -- known in local parlance by their euphemism 'encounter specialists' -- are back in the news.

Stung by the horrific July 11 bomb attacks, the police top brass have brought back some of the encounter specialists -- so called because they kill wanted gangsters in cold-blood by staging encounters to give the impression that it was a shootout -- to add the much needed teeth to its intelligence gathering machinery.

Mumbai Police Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS), entrusted with the overall responsibility to probe the July 11 terror attacks on Mumbai that killed 200 people and wounded 800, is drawing heavily on the experience and expertise of the gunfight specialists and officers who are no longer in service.

They include suspended police officers like Sachin Vaze and Daya Nayak, a sub-inspector who gained notoriety as an 'encounter specialist' and was alleged to have underworld connections, Vinod Bhatt, then assistant commissioner of police (ACP) who was part of the team that cracked the 1993 serial blasts case, Naval Bajaj, deputy commissioner of police (DCP), and other 'encounter' specialists such as inspector Vijay Salaskar and Pradeep Sharma.

These former 'glamour boys' of Mumbai Police's then crack team of the crime branch have to their individual credit over 80 'encounters' apiece.

They once enjoyed unlimited power, but they fell out of favour, mostly because of their own doing.

These field officers who were responsible for bringing the gang war under control have been sidelined or are under suspension.

Mangalore-born Nayak began life, cleaning tables at nine years of age at restaurants here before joining the city police force.

Nayak, who hit the headlines in the late 90s as a crack police gunfight expert, after killing 83 gangsters in 'encounters', found himself along with mentor Pradeep Sharma arrested and then subsequently suspended six months ago, accused of being in cahoot with the same underworld he has pledged to annihilate.

Nayak, who gunned down gangsters from the Chhota Shakeel and Chhota Rajan gangs, even received threats from Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for his persistent attack on the underworld.

Thirty-seven year-old police Inspector Vijay Salaskar, along with his then boss and deputy commissioner of police (DCP) Parambir Singh were instrumental in breaking the backbone of underworld don turned politician Arun Gawli's gang by eliminating most of his sharpshooters.

Salaskar came into public eye after he killed dreaded underworld don Amar Nayak in an encounter in central Mumbai in 1997.

An MCom from Bombay University, Salaskar joined the force as a sub-inspector and rose to fame for killing Gawli's most ruthless sharpshooter, Bandya, who was allegedly the city's top extortionist.

After his fall from favour in 2005, Salaskar was given charge of the city's Anti-Robbery Squad but is now part of the elite group of sleuths probing the July 11 blasts.

Forty-four-year-old senior inspector, Predeep Sharma, with 107 'encounters' under his belt was the first Maharashtra police officer to have been featured on the cover of the Time magazine's international edition.

Sharma shot to fame after he killed two gangsters of the Dawood Ibrahim gang in 1990. He also shot dead three alleged Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists involved in the Mulund train blasts at Goregaon in 2003.

Their individual investigation skills are exceptional and an asset for any probe team, says their former boss.

"They are excellent officers with exceptional intelligence gathering skills," said former Mumbai crime branch chief and now deputy inspector general of police (DIG) state reserve police force Parambir Singh.

"They are individually an asset to any investigation team," Singh said.

And if highly placed sources in the ATS are to be believed, these former encounter experts with their well-oiled network of informants have become instrumental in piecing together vital nuggets of information in the blast probe.

"Some of these earlier boys who were in the crime branch have their own informants and network within the underbelly of city's underworld have given the much needed boost to the probe. We are drawing on their exceptional investigations skills," said a senior ATS official connected with the July 11 blast probe.

"Their experience and knowledge of the city's underworld and terror modules have come very handy for the investigations."

"These officers both former crime branch chaps and officer who were connected with the 1993 bombings prove are highly skilled as investigators and have become very handy for the case (probe). They have added teeth to the investigations as they know the methods employed by the underworld and have sound knowledge of counter-terrorism," the official said.

"With their expertise and experience, these officers are playing a vital role in the investigations," the officer said.