| Mumbai police commissioner PS Pasricha
Mumbai, Dec. 7: Mumbai police, already reeling from the Rs 39,000-crore stamp paper scam, hit a new low on Friday when four of the force kidnapped three businessmen and demanded ransom.
Computer hardware traders Bharat Patel, Bhavesh Patel and Mavji Patel were picked up from the Fort area in south Mumbai and charged with selling fake printer cartridges. The cops, who had neither a complaint nor a warrant to back up the allegation, demanded money in exchange for the trio’s release.
When they protested, the three were bundled into two taxis and driven around for most of the evening. Cough up Rs 75,000 or go around in circles, they were told.
The trio finally rang up their homes on their cells. The distraught families, unlike most others, went straight to the police control room. By then, the four officers had stripped the hostages of their mobiles and Rs 19,000.
The officers have been sent to police custody till December 11 by a metropolitan court after Cuffe Parade police arrested them. The accused are Suresh Jadhav, Sudhakar Salunkhe, Ashok Shengar, Appasaheb Zurle and sub-inspector Kalpana Pawar — one of them worked behind the scenes.
“All the while, they beat us up, especially the lady police officer,” Bhavesh recalled. “They (cops) harass us a lot for money, but this is the first time businessmen like us were kidnapped for cash,’’ he said.
But traders in the Fort area have been complaining of extortion by police for the last six months. “Not that it wasn’t happening earlier, but for some reason the extortion has increased as has the police’s greed,” a member of the Fort Traders’ Association said.
The organisation’s president, Ashok Patel, explained the tactics. “The cops barge into our shops and, at times, confiscate original computer hardware and show it as fake in the panchanama (written police record). They then demand Rs 50,000 to return the goods.”
On May 30, all 450 shops in the area had pulled down shutters in protest.
Yet, every Saturday at 6 pm, a police officer shuffles towards transporter Abdul Shaikh in a dark corner of Worli, hands him a “list” and slinks away.
The list, Shaikh said, contains the names of transporters marked by the police for hafta (extortion amount). “There are 200 of us and each pays anywhere from Rs 500 to Rs 1,000 a week. The money gets distributed from top to bottom (in the police force),” he alleged.
But extortion is not the only taint on a force that is increasingly being identified with abductions, tenant evictions, fake encounters and economic offences.
In another “first” for the state police, Pune’s deputy inspector-general (motor transport) was summoned on Thursday by a court in Bhoiwada to answer charges of attempted eviction. Both Gulabrao Pol and inspector Nandkishore More of Shivaji Park police station were asked if they threatened the complainant.
Ulhas Kulkarni of Kapil Tirth building in Mahim told the court he received threat calls from Pol when he was deputy commissioner of police, Zone V. He alleged Pol, promoted and transferred recently, had told him to vacate the flat as his landlord of 20 years wanted him out.
Today, deputy commissioner (special branch)Pradip Sawant was questioned again for three hours in the fake stamp paper case for alleged lapses in the probe conducted in 1995.
Reacting to the Friday kidnapping, new Mumbai police commissioner P.S. Pasricha said: “I will not spare anybody. What is happening in the department is very shameful. But it is also good in a way; they are digging their own graves.’’ But Pasricha’s optimism may have few takers as his force appears to sinking in its own muck.
In January, the police top brass had received evidence showing assistant commissioner Abdul Razzak Patel of Pydhonie division relaying an underworld message to a city businessman. “He (the don) wants four (crore) but you give two (crore) and end this matter,’’ Patel is heard telling Nisar Johri in a tape-recorded conversation.
Patel, in custody now, was the conduit for gangster Bholu Madia, who is wanted in 23 crimes, including murder. Johri had back then sought help from former Mumbai commissioner R.S. Sharma and joint commissioner Sreedhar Vagal. Both are in jail now in the stamp paper scam.