I was red faced. The guy looked at me as his staff scattered all over and laughed aloud, his spotless white kurta-pyjama shining in the moonlight. “What impunity,” I thought. This had become very embarrassing.
Where did we go wrong? I had twice verified the information, from two different sources. I had sent a punter (decoy). He, too, had confirmed that the high-society gentleman laughing aloud now was indeed dangerous, running a big adulteration racket, selling petrol after mixing diesel. That he had all the equipment to adulterate petrol while he moved around with the powerful in community, cultivating all those who matter.
Our decoy had brought the tanker filled at this man’s petrol pump and we had got it analyzed informally. The diesel content was alarmingly high. Having completed this entire exercise, why were we not able to locate the diesel?
People eating at the nearby dhaba owned by him were earlier alarmed and now amused at the failure of our police search-party. We had nothing to show for why we had disturbed their late dinner. They had been eating merrily sitting on charpais that had been part of the rustic ambience tastefully created for the highway dhaba. Drinks were flowing but we could do nothing about it as a liquor license was proudly displayed. I noticed their irritation and anger at Inspector Chougle going around with a lathi. I observed that he was also carrying his service revolver. Never before had I seen him with a constable’s lathi. Maybe he was as distressed as I, and hence the mindless wandering.
One by one, officers who were part of my raiding-party started filtering back with ‘nil-report’ written large on their faces. All of us were tired, having driven about 80 kilometres in the middle of the night. Had we found the adulteration plant where the big-man was mixing diesel with petrol, all the effort would have been worth it. So pointless, it seemed now. I was also dreading facing my senior who had warned me that I was taking on one of the most powerful people in the district.
Leakage of information is impossible, I thought, because an adulteration plant cannot be shifted over night.
Feeling dejected, I was also getting hassled with the Inspector going around banging his lathi on the ground. None dared to interrupt him though. Diners as well as the staff were in awe of him as he had a great name in the district. In fact, as we entered the petrol pump and the dhaba, I heard two three voices calling him by name. I was sure that if I were not around, there would have been handshakes and light male bantering too. Me and my grim face had dampened the atmosphere. Not that I cared.
From nowhere my driver appeared and in a very soft voice asked me to come to our jeep. I was surprised, but followed him after a minute or so. There stood Chougle, behind the jeep with a gleam in his eyes.
“We are right,” he said, and with a sudden clap and loud voice he called the dhaba staff and everyone complied. None question when Chougle commands, I had noticed earlier too.
He got them into a circle around charpais strewn across the dhaba. Then he advised the diners to vacate the place, and the staff not to move. He was in command. There was total silence. The big man’s laughter turned into a smirk, and then into a frown as he noticed the determined actions of Chougle. The raiding party was on full alert.
“Pick up the table third from left,” the Inspector ordered. The diners got up and a constable did as told. “And the first from right.”
This time a charpai was lifted. Strange, I noted, as both places had drainage covers on the ground. Sarcastically, Chougle asked the big-man to show the way. Busy looking at the scene, I had not noticed that the man’s face had paled. The change in his demeanor was stark in the moon light. I knew Chougle had struck gold, yet again.
Our team finally found what it had come looking for. The drainage covers were removed to disclose cemented chambers full of diesel. There were stair cases leading down, and an intricate mechanism to mix petrol with diesel. Entry and exit points had been properly marked. Inspector Chougle asked the jeep driver to shine the car’s headlights in the direction of the chambers. I could hear the surprise of staff and diners, so large were the underground storage chambers.
Our usual drill of recording all facts before the two independent witnesses followed. Diners were glad that they were not arrested. Many left without paying bills, happy to have witnessed and happier still not to be a part of the raid. The petrol pump staff were naturally wary. Their game was up. The big man suddenly seemed short and small. Or maybe I was imagining.
“But how did Chougle find the chambers?” I wondered.
When he came the next day with full report of seizure of about twenty thousand litres of diesel – having sent samples for chemical analysis – I asked him. He looked serious for a moment and admitted that his initial reaction had been that we had lost the battle. But not finding any storage points or godown, he calculated that the big-man, being very clever and resourceful, could have hidden the chambers underground.
Thus, Chougle went around poking the ground with a constable’s lathi till he felt hollow ground and the drainage covers that he calculated to be a facade. Opening them was like opening Pandora’s box, for they were full of adulterated oil and petrol.
The determined Inspector had used the good old lathi to his advantage. Wishing many more lathis for Chougle, I got busy with my work till the police Control Room informed me that the local magistrate had denied bail to the big-man, and granted police custody for one full week. This despite all the clout he had and openly bragged about.
The big/small-man with Inspector Chougle for one week – I could not hide my smile. The media, as expected, had a great time. My senior had to dispatch a special contingent to regulate the mob that descended on Inspector Chougle’s police station to have a look at both.
The author, Meeran Chadha Borwankar, is a retired 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:
For more articles, like and follow Indus Dictum on