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The Rediff Special/Syed Firdaus Ashraf

November 19, 2003

It is difficult for honest police officers to survive in a corrupt system. And the story of Sukhwinder Singh Puri is no different.

Never appointed commissioner of any important city in Maharashtra, the low profile Puri is in the limelight as the head of the Special Investigation Team probing the multi-crore rupee fake stamp papers scam.

Always upright and straightforward, his colleagues call him 'Justice Puri.'  They know when Puri takes up an investigation he comes up with concrete evidence to back up the case in court.

"If you look at his career all the cases he pursued have come to a logical end. When he probed the Maharashtra Public Service Commission scam he saw to it that there were no loopholes. It is more than two years now and all the accused have not got bail," says a close friend of Puri.

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While investigating the scam Puri arrested the high-profile Shashikant Karnik -- former vice-chancellor, Bombay University, former chairperson of the MPSC and chairman of the Union Public Service Commission. He also played a prominent role in the arrest of P D Vani, the then MPSC chairperson.

The scam broke in 2001 soon after the Maharashtra Anti-Corruption Bureau discovered that MPSC officials rigged marks for cash to enable certain candidates to join the police and bureaucracy fraudulently.

Candidates who bribed MPSC officials would write the exam papers after the exams were over. Their answer sheets would then be included for correction, giving them an undue advantage over the others.

"I can say he (Puri) solely revived the anti-corruption department. The way he pursued the MPSC scam was superb. There were no flaws in his investigation. The court admired the way he dealt with the investigation," says D S Soman, former state director general of police.

When the Mumbai high court ordered a probe in the fake stamp papers scam to be headed by a senior police officer a few high-profile names cropped up.

But the investigation was handed to Puri.

Majeed Memon, the lawyer who filed the petition in the case at social activist Anna Hazare's behest, told "It was heartening to find out that even today we have police officers with such a high degree of integrity and quality."

The fake stamp papers case gained momentum only after the high court ordered the Maharashtra government to appoint a Special Investigation Team to unearth evidence against prime accused Abdul Karim Telgi.

"He (Puri) has proved his outstanding calibre. He was not influenced from any quarter during the course of the investigation," adds Memon.

The MPSC and fake stamp papers scams are not the only two investigations Puri can be proud of. Among the other achievements of this 1967 batch Indian Police Service officer was the manner in which he handled the communal situation in Malegaon when he was posted there in the late 1970s.

"That was his first major achievement and he received accolades for handling the situation well," recounts a former colleague.

When Puri was the chief vigilance officer of the Bombay Port Trust in the late 1980s he detected fraud. The case was handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation as his superiors were involved.

"This was the biggest risk he took because he took on his bosses by pursuing the investigation," remembers another colleague.

Puri paid the price as he was shifted to the Food and Drugs Administration as its commissioner. Here too he took on corrupt elements and was prematurely transferred.

"I remember he was transferred to a 'dump posting' for five years and did not achieve anything major from 1993 to 1997. The only reason being that he never met a single politician until he was required to meet (that person) for official purpose," remembers a friend.

'If I have competence in me, I will get my due. Why should I visit politicians for no reason?' a colleague remembers Puri as saying.

"I always felt it was unfair that Puri was never made DGP nor Mumbai police commissioner, which are considered prime postings. But I am happy he has got more respect and prominence than Mumbai Police Commissioner R S Sharma," adds this friend.

"I can describe Puri's life in three words. He is a man with a conscience. He is a very honest and upright officer. His personal integrity is respected by all the policemen in Maharashtra," recalls a former DGP.

But Puri could well confront his toughest challenge in tackling the fake stamp papers investigation to its logical conclusion.

But as Memon says, "I salute Puri for being such a bright officer. He has set an example for other policemen on how to conduct their duty."

Photograph: Arun Patil. Image: Dominic Xavier

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