Mumbai, Sept. 16: Assistant commissioner Vasant Dhoble, the officer whose hockey stick and camera terrorised Mumbai’s party-goers till two months ago, will no longer be playing moral police.
Last night, Mumbai’s new police commissioner, Satyapal Singh, passed an order shunting Dhoble out of the department’s social service branch, a unit with a history of acting moral nanny to the “city that never sleeps”.
Dhoble, 57, who headed the unit, reported directly to the previous commissioner, Arup Patnaik. Now, assistant commissioner R.R. Joshi will head the branch while Dhoble will manage law and order at the suburban Vakola police station.
Dhoble’s relentless raids on Mumbai’s pubs and restaurants that stayed open beyond the sanctioned hours, and his detention of staff and patrons — many of them extremely powerful — had earned him both praise and brickbats.
While the media and the Page 3 crowd slammed him for curtailing the city’s fabled nightlife, residents of these establishments’ neighbourhoods lauded the officer.
Police sources said Dhoble’s transfer had been a foregone conclusion after chief minister Prithviraj Chavan promised a tourism conclave that Mumbai would get its nightlife back.
Travel companies have been complaining about a fall in domestic and international tourist traffic to the city since Dhoble’s video-graphed raids and hockey-stick blows deterred night revellers.
The transfer decision came after a query from the National Human Rights Commission about possible rights violations during Dhoble’s raids, police sources said.
The panel’s query was based on a petition filed by Pune-based entrepreneur and official Congress spokesperson Tehseen Poonawalla, 30. He filed the petition after Dhoble rounded up three German women outside a Mumbai bar.
“This is a victory for those who stand up against moral policing,” Poonawalla told The Telegraph. “Dhoble has for long enjoyed the patronage of state home minister R.R. Patil. But now, because of the chief minister’s direct intervention, he has had to go.”
Poonawalla had also filed an RTI application in June, which revealed that Dhoble had been suspended in 1989 for accepting a bribe in Pune.
“In 1994, he was sentenced to seven years in prison and fined Rs 1 lakh for his role in a custody death. He was dismissed from the force but reinstated in 1996 after Bombay High Court quashed his jail sentence,” Poonawalla said.
“A departmental inquiry against him is still pending in this case: the Supreme Court had ordered it.”
Dhoble had also been dragged to the high court by two women whom a team led by him had detained at a restaurant for alleged human trafficking. The women sought compensation from the police for defamation but the high court refused to pass any orders against the police.
Poonawalla says the Mumbai police’s obsession with the social service branch and implementation of archaic laws began with home minister Patil’s mission to ban dance and beer bars in 2005.
“It’s an eyewash that helps distract citizens from the police’s failure in all other areas of daily policing,” he said.
Patil belongs to Sharad Pawar’s NCP, the Congress’s coalition partner in the state.