February 22, 2001


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The Rediff Interview/Joint Commissioner of Police Dhanushkodi Sivanandan

The Rediff Interview/Joint
  Commissioner of Police Dhanushkodi Sivanandan There is nothing exciting about arresting a rich

Dhanushkodi Sivanandan, 50, joint commissioner of police (crime), was known as the guru of training for the Bombay police force. They say he has a fascination for training, seminars and PowerPoint presentations.

But all that has changed.

Now he has hit the headlines as the man who nailed the invincible Bharat Shah, the richest film financier in Bollywood and one of India's top diamond merchants, for his alleged transactions with the underworld.

The man, who planned and undertook the arrest and imprisonment of the Bollywood Badshah, is now moving to the Central Bureau of Investigation as a joint director. He will be in charge of the western zone.

Sivanandan spoke to Senior Editor Sheela Bhatt about Bharat Shah's arrest, crime and extortion.

Your office looks very impressive...

Oh, yes. I believe policemen should have self-esteem. He should be proud of his job. My office is like any other well-managed corporate office.

My colleagues have such a sleek office also. I am interested in changing people's perception of the police.

I was an assistant professor of economics, for three years, at the University of Madras. I am not what the police stands for! I am a critic of the image that the police have. I strongly feel there is scope to improve.

I am a 'non-police-like' policeman.

Sitting internally, I don't want to criticise, I want to contribute. So I did a little by organising 150 training courses on subjects like How to excel? How to manage stress? How to improve public relations? How to gather intelligence? Though it's not my job.

I am an expert on crime in the city, but the teacher in me likes to organise these activities. I always accept invitations from the Rotary Club or Lions. I do computer-aided presentations for them. People like it immensely. Communication is good, I believe.

Can you put the crime situation in Bombay in perspective, both on a macro and micro level?

Organised crime is an integral part of Bombay. Criminals are in the city for a long time. They are rooted here.

But what we are handling are the symptoms of the disease called crime. We are not dealing with the main disease. For the removal of that deep-rooted disease we need the help of public companies, the government, the public and the police force, all together, which is an impossible task!

When things went out of control, we took action, we tightened the screws. Do you remember the situation in 1998? We have improved the ground situation, now.

But just one murder, of the likes of Hanif Kadawala, changes the perception. The media cries that the Mafia war is back and all that. We are living in a fragile kind of a situation. People do not trust us. They think that the might of the Mafia is more than the force of the police. We cannot provide a foolproof situation. But we do act and it shows.

When Chhota Rajan was attacked in Bangkok, the media reported that blood would run like a river in Bombay's lanes.

We claimed, "Kuch honewala nahin hain (nothing will happen)." Only Vinod Shetty has been murdered. He revealed the place (where Rajan was hiding). That much show of anger is expected.

No major gang war broke out. But still people live in fear. We have shown to the public that gang wars can be controlled. Extortion, shootouts, weapon supplies and the recruitment of young lads into the world of crime has been controlled.

What about controlling the root cause?

We can neutralise the effect and control it. But this type of crime is in existence since long. It takes time.

We brought in the new law Maharashtra Control of Organised Criminals Act in 1999. We have arrested 131 persons under the new act. In just two years we have seized more than 7,500 firearms.

In 1998, 101 citizens (including criminals) were killed, in an open shootout by gangsters. Last year: Only two!

In a planned manner, we have moved in to control crime in Bombay.

But the police force is always under a cloud of suspicion. How did you tackle that aspect?

I was posted in Nagpur before. I have experience of anti-Naxalite operations. When I was in immigration, I knew exactly what was happening and about the greed of some officers. I was in the Intelligence Bureau for some time and, when I was additional commissioner of police, I was a part of the investigation of the Bombay blast case.

My knowledge of the Bombay police is pucca.

I know all the police officers by their first names. I know whose children are studying in America and whose are in Australia.

Three years back, around 20 shootouts per month were reported. The press was screaming. Headlines were depressing. The richest community in Bombay are the Gujaratis and Marwaris and they were absolutely terrified. They even told then chief minister Manohar Joshi and (then deputy chief minister Gopinath) Mundeji that they would not pay taxes if crime was not controlled.

Even a blind man could read the writing on the wall, and I was not blind. As leader of the crime branch, I decided to not waste time controlling racing, gambling, matka or prostitution.

I told my men, "I don't want shootouts on the roads. Gangsters should not roam openly in the city." Bhai ka aadmi bolta hun karke gun nikala aur mar diya (In the name of the ganglords people are being killed). We have stopped that. We have increased nakabandis (police roadblocks) and seizures of weapons, like never before. Check any figures of the last five to 10 years... police action has been highest in the last two years.

How did you go about it?

First, we arrested the criminals. A high number of arrests. When shooters of the gangs are kept in jails for 12 months, the crime rate decreases.

Then, we also took very seriously the detection of murders. That helped. We wanted to stop the American movie style gun culture. We started talking to criminals more and more. The combination of detentions, arrests, recovery of weapons, sold and purchased in the underworld market, worked. And when criminals fired on us, we retaliated by shooting them down.

At least 300 people helped us to gather intelligence and on the basis of their information we planned our secret operations.

We alerted (film producer) Pahlaj Nihlani and saved his life. Through our sources we came to know that he would be a target. We created a security cordon around him, allowed the criminals to come close, and then we nabbed them. In some cases we prevented them before they could attack.

We have saved the lives of many film industry people, Shiv Sainiks and industrialists. An attack on (film director) Vidhu Vinod Chopra was averted.

Since fear had gripped the city, we went on the offensive. Our intelligence support helped with our encounters. So many murders were prevented. We opted for the prevention of murders, and in that process if the criminals resisted, we resorted to a shoot out.

But that won't help in the long run, right?

The root cause is here to stay. Fear of the gangster cannot go away so soon.

Rich people want to buy peace. For them time is money, and easy money can be spent on buying peace. They have a desire to settle accounts across the table. When criminals call them up, they would say, "Take this one paty (one crore or Rs 10 million) and leave me alone."

This desire to settle scores privately, by throwing away money, is a boon to the underworld. Unemployment continues, which helps gang leaders.

Many times I have told rich people to trust the police. But they don't trust us. I tell them, again and again, that no one has died because of the threat of an extortionist. Today 2,800 of my policemen are protecting people who have received threats. I am sorry to say that rich people come to us for protection, but also help criminals by paying up.

Why do you say help?

Of course, when you pay up the extortion money, you are financing the criminals. His umbilical cord is the finance and that needs to be cut off. When I pay Rs 4 million to Rs 5 million to my enemy number one, I am weakened.

One famous producer-director of a super hit film took our protection and also paid the criminal. And you are asking me why I am not attending to the root cause?! Rich people will ask for the security cover and also pay the criminals.

When the wife of a murdered politician was asked to identify the killer of her husband she fainted in the courtroom. The Prem Kumar Sharma and Jayant Jadhav cases were well investigated. But what do you do when witnesses don't co-operate?

Let me ask you about the Bharat Shah arrest.

We don't take action without gathering enough intelligence. As I told you, we have been, in a big way, observing organised crime in Bombay. Shah was not included in that net. He was not under our watch. We never treated him as a criminal. He has been arrested for abetting a crime. He helped the extortion activities of gangsters.

Where is the proof?

He has been in jail for 40 days. Do you think the court will allow us to keep him in? When we were investigating the producer of Chori Chori Chupke Chupke we got Shah's voice on our tape!

Have you checked the voice?

Yes, his relatives have agreed. It is his voice. A forensic science laboratory in Delhi has testified. Both voices match.

But the transcript that appeared on a news channel and in a Bombay tabloid sounded filmy and untrue.

Because that is incorrect! We have not given out any details of the tape conversation to anyone. They are imaginary. They are not at all from the real transcript.

How can you tape the conversation of a businessman in such a clandestine manner?

It is legal. The additional chief secretary, home, has authorised us. An additional line of the same number (Rizvi's) was set up in our office. The mobile phone company provided us with an extra connection to the producer's cell number.

So Shah is in your net now?

It's a thumb rule. When you are in the fast lane, you can be caught. For us, the arrest is just a byproduct of an investigation into organised crime.

It must have been an exciting moment when you heard him on tape.

No way. There is nothing exciting about arresting a rich man. It is part of an effort to check the nerve centre of illegal film financing. We want to check the flow of money into the Mafia world. If it can be done, I consider Shah's arrest an achievement.

He is so well connected. You must be under pressure.

Surprisingly, no one came forward. No one. People said he knows everyone from the prime minister to the home minister and has access to them. I think people read too much in the pictures of such people with the powerful of the land.

Is your case strong enough?

Of course. Our case stood the attack of a battery of lawyers. Is that not enough? I am earning Rs 500 a day and my lawyer earns Rs 200 a day.

Shah's lawyers can easily earn Rs 200,000 on an appearance. They have some 25 assistants helping them. They stay at the Oberoi and fly executive class. This is a fight between unequals, but still my confidence is intact, because the law of the land is on my side.

Some legal experts are of the opinion that your case is on thin ground.

See, if you tell Shah that my case is strong, he will stop paying lawyers! Do you believe my case is on thin ground? It's a criminal case. We have the cassette. And we will wait for the court to decide. It's a lawyer's business to give hope. It's a lawyer's world.

How will the case proceed?

We have not made all the facts public. In (Judge) J W Singh's case the witness was harassed. In this case we have been extra careful. By the month end (February) we will file the charge sheet. We have a 90 to 180 days time limit. The court has, in its order, said there is a prima facie case. And that satisfies me.

So many cases have caused a sensation, but after some time they disappeared because the police proceedings were legally not sustainable.

Shah is in jail. That shows that: Policemen paisa nahi khaya. No one pressurised us. For some rich people everybody is sastaa (cheaply available)!

Yes, in this case we have not got the fingerprints or the blood on his hands! But wait for the cassette.

In this case, even if I am discredited, I will not regret it, because at least I took a risk.

But Shah says he has not talked to any member of any underworld.

During the arguments in court, Shah's lawyer said at one point of time, "Assuming that my client (Shah) spoke, he spoke as a mediator." Now it is up to the court to decide whether participating in a criminal activity is a crime or not. Let us wait.

Design: Uttam Ghosh


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