I keep telling Inspector Chougle that he cannot fight the system alone and that he cannot fight all the time. But he refuses to listen; he is pure and simple stubborn. I wonder how he has survived in police service this long.
All of us, including the Commissioner of Police, were shaken to the core by fifteen deaths due to the consumption of spurious liquor, but that does not mean the Inspector should start a one-man rampage against illicit liquor in Mumbai. This, however, is exactly what he had been doing for about a fortnight. The Commissioner had stopped most illegal activities in Mumbai and I, as Joint Commissioner of the Crime Branch, did not have much of a role as the Crime Branch enters the picture only in very serious crimes, or when the Commissioner allots a specific case.
Rooting out and shutting down illegal breweries was traditionally done by local police stations, and I had been attending meetings where the police campaign against illicit liquor and gambling was discussed. I watched from the periphery as we were neck deep in tackling the fresh gunfire incidents of Ravi Pujari. He was threatening and giving extortion calls to big builders and film producers in Mumbai. In a recent case, one of his gangsters had even fired at a reputed criminal lawyer. There was enough to keep us on our toes.
Then, early one morning, I got a call from the Police Control Room that fifteen persons had died after having consumed spurious liquor, and that the Commissioner had summoned me to his office. I changed into my uniform and rushed to meet him. The wireless radio in my vehicle tracked many calls to hospitals where people were still being admitted after their ingesting counterfeit liquor.
The Boss wore a grave look. His voice was deep with anger. He said that the Crime Branch should take over the case while police stations would deal with the protests and marches bound to follow the unfortunate deaths. “Sure,” I said, saluted, and left for my office that had been hurriedly opened by the staff on night-duty. Slowly, officers started trickling in. The news had spread. The investigation was handed over to the Chembur unit of Crime Branch, who laboriously traced the source to Thane. The main accused was arrested along with his cronies. There were two ladies also involved. In their greed to increase sales by adding to the ‘kick‘, the gang had put furniture polish spirit in home-brewed liquor. We were working under a lot of pressure due to media and public criticism of the incident. It was painful to be branded as thoroughly corrupt and hands-in-glove with the criminals.
That was when I got the news about Chougle’s one-man crusade against illicit liquor. It seems that after his police station work, he would chase vehicles transporting the liquor from Thane, seize them, and register criminal cases. My driver Jadhav — an ardent admirer of Chougle — one morning proudly announced that the Inspector’s police station has become a, “brilliant monument of such vehicles.” Intrigued, I asked Jadhav to take me to the said piece of brilliance. Totally missing my sarcasm, Jadhav turned the car around and in no time we reached the police station. Our car slowed to a crawl nearer the destination as Jadhav now had to maneuver his way through old jeeps, cars, and motorcycles strewn all around the police station. Seeing my car, Inspector Chougle rushed out of his room to receive me. I looked around and was taken aback at the number of vehicles of different shape and sizes being used for transporting the liquid poison. Jadhav was right. What he thought was a brilliant monument, however, looked like a graveyard to me. The Inspector had declared war, and the success of his night-chases of vehicles carrying liquor was open for all to witness.
During the monthly conference of Crime Branch officers, the Commissioner, while decrying police complicity in illegal activities in Mumbai and pulling up all of us, made a special mention of Chougle’s crusade. Surprisingly, he was not at the conference.
Last I heard, the Inspector was attempting to trace the real owners of vehicles or trying to convince insurance companies to claim them. While destroying illicit liquor after sending samples to the forensic lab is a relatively easy process, the onerous task of disposing of vehicles is the bane of all such cases. Trials of criminal cases take around five years to complete, and the seized property used for criminal purposes piles up until then. If there is an appeal in the High Court, another five years gone.
Speedy, time bound trial is the only solution. The victims get justice on time, and property kept in police stations can be disposed of according to the orders of the trial court. Mumbai had set up a separate dump-yard for such vehicles. Even that is full to the brim now. The Inspector’s enthusiasm, though praised by the Commissioner and lauded by citizens, is not the solution. Prompt justice is.
The author, Meeran Chadha Borwankar, is a serving Police Officer of Maharashtra Cadre.
She believes that her uniform enables her to expedite the social change she wants to see in India, especially for girls and women.
To contact Meeran, visit her website:
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