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Stamp scam top cop retires into lockup
Sharma

Mumbai, Dec. 1: In one of the darkest moments for Mumbai police, the Maharashtra government today arrested Ranjit Singh Sharma, the force’s chief until a few days ago, for his role in the Rs 39,000-crore fake stamp paper scam.

Sharma has been accused of shielding and going soft on scam mastermind Abdul Karim Telgi. He is the only police commissioner in the history of the country to be charged for his links with the underworld.

The special investigation team (SIT), set up by Bombay High Court to look into the interstate racket, placed Sharma under arrest around 4.15 pm after intensive grilling. The arrest came under the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act, usually reserved for underworld dons and their henchmen.

Ironically for Sharma, the SIT grilled him for hours in its Worli office yesterday as the city’s IPS officers were hosting a farewell party for their former chief. Sharma skipped the celebrations, as did many other officers who didn’t want to be associated with their tainted boss.

It wasn’t the best way for Sharma to end his career in the police force, from which he retired only yesterday as an additional director-general of police. Ever since the SIT let out his name in connection with the scam, he has been questioned relentlessly.

First the government stalled his promotion to the director-general’s post; then he was forced to go on leave 14 days before retirement. He was also transferred twice in the last couple of weeks, both times in what is euphemistically called “side postings”.

Soon after his arrest, Sharma was driven off to Pune where he will join his deputy, joint commissioner Sreedhar Vagal, in jail. A Pune court has refused to entertain Vagal’s plea to be treated as a Class A inmate. Sharma’s official residence was raided later.

Both Vagal and Sharma face similar charges of patronising Telgi and keeping a protective eye over his murky empire. Eleven other police officers have been arrested. Sleuths from the SIT are questioning others, some of whom may be arrested in the coming days. On Saturday, assistant commissioner of police Ramakant Padaval was suspended from service for abetting Telgi in his crime.

The crime branch went into a tizzy after news of Sharma’s arrest broke. Senior officers were inundated with phone calls — from politicians as well as the man on the street. The top brass held an emergency meeting to discuss the fallout of what has been the biggest development in the Telgi case.

The government has already filed an eight-point chargesheet against Sharma, holding him responsible, among other things, for “not doing his utmost as police commissioner in Pune and Mumbai” and for “dereliction of duty, poor professional response and failure to intervene and take immediate correctives in several such situations”. Sharma will have to file his reply by Thursday.

The action against Sharma — during whose term a raiding police team found crime branch officers fussing over Telgi in his Cuffe Parade house when he was supposed to be in jail — has to an extent vindicated the state’s contention that the SIT should handle the probe, not the CBI.

Chief minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, who earlier said the SIT was doing a “wonderful job”, claimed the Centre could use the CBI to further its political motives and target Congress and Nationalist Congress Party leaders. ( )

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