April 25: A nasty Nor’wester had broken over Calcutta, rain lashed the narrow lane lined with hole-in-the-wall shops. At one ' Millennium Communication ' Sher Singh Rana had just finished making a call and paying the phone booth employee the Rs 13 charge when he felt a tap on his shoulder.
A group of three people dragged Rana out in the rain. Around him, pounded by the wind-blown showers, shops rolled the shutters down in the street popularly known as Metro gali.
It was around 7.30 in the evening when the ring closed in on the alleged killer of bandit queen Phoolan Devi.
Humiliated like possibly no other law-keeping force in the world when Rana, now 28, simply walked out of jail over two years ago, Delhi police had pulled off a sensational re-arrest to repair their reputation.
Rana is an accused in the murder of Phoolan, then a Samajwadi Party MP, outside her 44 Ashoka Road residence on July 25, 2001.
Showing off the trophy, Delhi police chief K.K. Paul described the hunt for Rana as one of the longest in the force’s recent history.
A team of over two dozen personnel from the Delhi police’s special cell was lying in wait for him for four days, unknown to their Calcutta counterparts who learnt about the arrest from TV.
Paul said the sleuths were watching all the intersections in the Esplanade area. “Yesterday, an additional team of eight personnel was sent to Calcutta to step up the vigilance. He was spotted at the PCO, identified by the team and arrested around 7.30 pm. He was brought back by air.”
The police had information that Rana would be in Calcutta to get his Bangladesh visa extended and located him at Hotel Blue Moon, where he was staying under an assumed name, Joy Tirkey. It also happens to be the name of an assistant commissioner of Delhi police who had headed the interrogation in the Phoolan murder.
Ajay Kumar, the deputy commissioner of police (special cell), who headed the investigation team, said Rana had plans to venture into the coal business.
“He had visited Dhanbad a couple of times,” Kumar said. Rana made a call to Dhanbad recently. “Call-tracking was the key in his arrest,” Kumar added.
“Before coming to Calcutta we raided several hideouts in the bordering areas of North 24-Parganas but could not get much information.”
Apart from walking out of Tihar jail early in the morning of February 17, 2004, as his associates posed as a police team that had come to escort him to a Hardwar court, Rana fooled the law in many ways.
He got himself a false passport from Ranchi in the name of Sanjay Gupta and entered and exited the country almost at will, despite an Interpol red-corner notice issued in August 2005. He travelled to Afghanistan, Dubai and, of course, Bangladesh, where he seemed to have taken shelter.
When caught, he was carrying a Thuraya satellite phone, an expensive piece of equipment, suggesting money was not a problem for Rana.
The Delhi police not only became the laughing stock across the country after Rana’s escape, he also thumbed his nose at them by giving a subsequent interview to a Hindi news channel in Varanasi.
Rana has revealed that after fleeing from jail, he stayed in a hotel near Moradabad where his brother sent him Rs 1 lakh through Sandeep, an associate, shifting from there to Ranchi. He even met another associate, Subhash Thakur, in a Varanasi jail.