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Meet the cop who has KILLED Mumbai's nightlife

Last updated on: June 14, 2012 11:09 IST

'Police must step in when immoral activities are conducted'

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Returning to his office at Mumbai's police commissionerate after a morning full of court hearings, Special Services Branch's Assistant Commissioner of Police Vasant Dhoble is resigned to answering a barrage of questions from reporters.

All the scribes want a sound byte from the man who is fast becoming the city's most hated policeman.

Dhoble spoke to Vrushali Lad about his recent controversial crackdowns on the city's famed nightlife and the storm of protests from Mumbaikars

It is being said that Mumbai's nightlife is in danger of disappearing altogether after the spate of raids you have recently conducted.

Nightlife? What do you mean by nightlife? You must go out in the night in the city to see what kind of life is actually out there.

Please elaborate.

Nobody is against people having fun. Having fun after work, going out with colleagues, going somewhere to dance and listen to music, all of that is fine. But the police must step in when immoral, illegal activities are conducted under the garb of fun. I urge the people not to worry -- if they have not done anything wrong, the police will not catch them.

What kind of illegal, immoral activities have you come across in the city at night?

So many restaurants, pubs, discos and places -- which have licenses granted to them under specific ambits -- are actually flouting all the rules they can think of just so they can accommodate more patrons and make more money. There are also places which employ women to solicit customers. Apart from this, there is the practice of keeping one's establishment open after the stipulated hours. But the most common illegality is playing loud music in places not designated to do so, without the requisite permissions and licenses.

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Image: ACP Vasant Dhoble
Photographs: Afsar Dayatar/Rediff.com

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'Nobody can indulge in moral policing'

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Are you comfortable being a part of the city's moral policing brigade?

Nobody can indulge in moral policing, and even the police do not do so. The police are only meant to uphold the laws and regulations that have been laid down, and if this is construed as moral policing, then that is unfortunate.

But doesn't it bother you that you are gaining the reputation of being the man who is ruining the city's nightlife?

Look, people are free to have their own opinion about me and the work that I am doing. And I challenge you to show me a single patron that we have booked or troubled.

And what are your feelings about the criticism you are receiving on Twitter?

I don't know what it (Twitter) is and how it functions.

People feel that the police should be looking into worthwhile causes and not going after restaurants.

That is the mistake everyone makes, in assuming that these raids are the only things we are doing. Since I have taken over as ACP of the SS branch last year, we have conducted over 500 raids and arrested over 4,000 people who were facilitating activities such as child labour, piracy and prostitution.

But innocent people have been branded for life after your raids. What about those two women who were having their dinner at a restaurant you raided, and who were branded as prostitutes?

I cannot comment on this matter as it is in court. But I must clarify that we have not troubled a single patron at any of the establishments that we have raided recently. Only the establishment owners have been pulled up, and charges slapped on them as per the rule they have broken.

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Image: Cafe Zoe, which was raided by Dhoble and his team

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'I can't control what people are saying'

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How do you decide whether a place is flouting rules?

Our tip-offs mostly come from aggrieved citizens. Once we receive a complaint, we study the place and see if the complaint has merit. We conduct a raid only after we discover illegalities and irregularities there. You will be surprised by the volume of correspondence we receive every day.

Citizens are concerned about immoral and illegal activities happening in their area, which is why they ask us to step in. Recently, there have been a number of complaints from south Mumbai, but mostly from the city's suburbs in Borivali, Kandivali, Andheri, Khar and Bandra.

Which are the rules and norms that are being flouted the most and how can citizens be aware of them?

Overcrowding is the main rule being flouted, especially in pubs. Apart from this, lots of places continue to operate after the stipulated time. We have also seen cases where the owners had made several structural alterations. In other cases, an area's peace and quiet is ruined by loud music or nuisance caused by unauthorised parking zones created outside several nightspots.

A lot is being said about your methods of dispensing justice. Some people are also calling you Chulbul Pandey...

I cannot control what people are saying and thinking. But people must understand that the police must do their job. People are disappointed when their partying is ruined, but instead of blaming the cops, they must blame the restaurants or pubs that flout rules.

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Photographs: Reuters

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'The police are hardly to be blamed'

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Y
ou have been captured on camera going after the staff of a juice centre with a hockey stick.

That is totally wrong information. I have never hit anyone during a raid, and neither has my team. (A media person points to the hockey stick kept in a corner just behind Dhoble's chair) Yes, I keep a hockey stick because I like to play hockey. But I have never hit anybody during a raid. That is not the right way to conduct a raid. I have never used a hockey stick on anyone. But yes, action is action. When I take action on anybody, I cannot tie my hands behind my back and speak softly.

Some patrons who were present when you conducted your recent raid at Cafe Zoe said that your language was very crude and your methods were offensive.

Enforcing the rule of law cannot be seen as rude behaviour. If it is, then that is unfortunate. People should enjoy their time after work with their friends and families, but they should not be party to wrongdoing. I urge citizens to come forward and report any illegality they notice in the establishments that they frequent, even if that place is their favourite hangout.

What are your views on the archaic laws governing the city? A person cannot drink alcohol till he is 25 years old, but he can vote at 18. Restaurants running in a space-crunched city like Mumbai are being fined for overcrowding.

The police do not frame the laws, they only uphold them. The police are hardly to be blamed if the laws governing the city today were written over 100 years ago. Naturally, we are not going to judge which law is archaic and which is not. A rule is a rule, and everybody has to follow it, whether they want to or not. Similarly, the police have to do their job, whether they want to or not.

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Photographs: Video: Afsar Dayatar/Rediff.com

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'There has been no pressure on me to stop the raids'

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There have also been allegations that money is extorted from establishment owners after your raids.

Please show me the person who says I have extorted money from him under the pretext of conducting a raid. And if citizens are aware of any person or persons extorting money using my name, or on my behalf, I urge them to report the matter to the nearest police station.

Why were 69 officers transferred from the SSB last year? Have these vacancies been filled?

Transfers are done as a matter of routine, and I cannot shed light on the reasons because these transfers were not done by me. I cannot say for sure if all the vacancies have been filled. I have a team of four officers and 10 uniformed men, and I can only vouch for them.

What is the police commissioner's reaction to your raids, and the subsequent scrutiny by the media and citizens?

You will have to ask him what he feels, because he has not communicated with me on the matter. There has been no reaction, adverse or otherwise, from him. And why should he react? I am only doing my job as a police officer.

There has been no pressure on me to stop the raids or do anything different. The commissioner's brief to all police officers is clear -- all illegal activities are to be weeded out, and the raids that the SSB is conducting are a result of this. All police stations are conducting raids as well, but you notice the SSB raids more because we have taken on the workload of some police stations that do not have the time to conduct those raids.

So more raids are to be expected?

Yes.

Lastly, how is Vasant Dhoble at home? Is he as strict, as ready to enforce the law?

(Laughs) These days, I don't have the time for anything. Most days, I work 24-hour shifts, and I only go home to sleep for a while before heading back to work. But yes, there are rules to be followed at home too.

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Photographs: Afsar Dayatar/Rediff.com

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