The secret life of police informers, the men who know too much

Mumbai:  One summer afternoon, while former police inspector Shamsher Khan Pathan was in his office attending to regular complaints, his senior asked him to get ready for an operation that could well be the turning point of his career.

With speed characteristic of fire brigade officials, Pathan slipped into his uniform, grabbed his service revolver and reported to his seniors in no time. Fifteen policemen, all armed with guns and bulletproof jackets, got into two police vans and headed towards the secret mission.

An inquisitive Pathan attempted to break the ice in the silent police van and enquired what this was all about. His superior revealed that his 'khaas khabri' (informer, in Mumbai police's lingo), had leaked a tip on a large consignment of sophisticated, deadly weapons.

The list included nothing less than AK-47s, hand grenades and other imported weapons which the Mumbai police would love to see in its own armoury. There was no reason to doubt the tip-off - its source was an ace informer, who, in fact, was leading the police team in a vehicle ahead. Pathan's curiosity knew no bounds as he moved closer to the khaas khabri's convoy.

However, Pathan was disappointed when he realised who the informer was - an old acquaintance. Recollecting his unpleasant experiences with the supposed ace informer, Pathan was reminded of a wild goose chase the not-so-khaas khabri had put him on to not so long ago. It was for personal vengeance.

Pathan had no choice but to burst his senior's bubble. He told him how this chase could just be the informer's attempt to retrieve some of his property which was usurped by the rival he was leading the police toward.

Almost a decade ago, Pathan and his superior would have been thought of as victims, trapped in a rare incident where roles were strangely reversed and cops were used by informers for personal gain.

However, now, instances like these hit headlines and are more common. The previously-secret world of the police and their experiences with informers is for the world to see. In the barter of favours, trade secrets of both the sides face the risk of exposure. And, often, one becomes a threat to the other.

So, when Ramchandra Chatri, who has been in the news for trying to extort money from Salman Khan's lawyer, Dipesh Mehta, should have ideally been bearing the badge of an old loyal to the police, he became a potential threat to the department. He mastered the art of investigation in the company of the Bandra police since 15 years. But in a sudden change of heart last month, he decided to use his proximity to police for extortion. Most surprisingly, he targeted a man who facilitated a living for his family, Mehta.

Mehta's family had employed Chatri's father as a security guard while his mother worked as their domestic help. His parents continued serving the Mehta's loyally for several years, but little did they know that their own son was nurturing a grudge against their employer as a teenager and was building the perfect plot for revenge. Mehta had long forgotten that his mother had once got a teenaged Chatri arrested for getting involved in a brawl. Chatri's revenge was actually targeted at Mehta's mother.

Chatri is still at large. While the police has been rendered sleepless in their attempts to nab him, Chatri seems to know all their ways of catching a crook. This may be the reason why, till now, the four traps to arrest Chatri, including one where his girlfriend was involved, have failed. It seems like he has thrown open a challenge for the police to crack. To top it all, he even sends bouquets to mock them.

"This is the reason why Chatri had developed close proximity with the cops. He is giving us a tough time with the tactics he learnt from us a decade," said an officer from the Bandra police station.

When Dhoble was used as a shield

In another example of the Mumbai police's convoluted relationship with khabris, they allegedly depended on the services of a tadipar, who has graduated to become an ace informer over the past year.

Twenty-five-year-old Agnel Leonard Weldaris, an accused in several robbery and assault cases, was externed in February 2011. But he continued to be an ace informer to the Social Service (SS) Branch. He aided and accompanied police teams in the much talked about crackdowns on Mumbai's nightlife. His tainted past came to light in May 2012, after he was nabbed from south Mumbai for violating the externment order.

It then came to the fore that Agnel was sent to several bars and hookah parlours as a bogus customer before assistant commissioner of police Vasant Dhoble's team conducted raids. "Dhoble preferred informers than the officers from his own team. There was a reason for it. Many a time, the policemen who were informed in advance about the raids were believed to have leaked the information to the bar and pub owners. When this became a regular occurrence, Dhoble eventually relied on his informers. Dhoble's informers were more powerful than the local police," says an officer from south Mumbai in whose jurisdiction Dhoble had conducted various raids.

According to a city-based hotelier, some of the informers become so close to the police officials that all the raids in the city in hotels and pubs get carried out based on their information. "This leaves us with no choice but to entertain them," said former hotelier Vishwanath Shetty. That is the reason why four police informers, who tipped off the police regarding a Bandra-based hookah bar were thrashed by the bar staff, on Thursday night. This incident took place after police officials raided the bar that night.

Agreeing to the fact that the informers often use police resources for personal gains, assistant commissioner of police Feroz Patel, of the social service branch, said, "We are more cautious with such khabris. Whenever a khabri approaches us with an input, instead of verifying the tip off first, we do a background check of the informant. We see what work he has done for the department in the past. These days we prefer tip-offs from the common man rather than khabris. These are the people who call up control rooms with their individual complaints. Sometime we receive complaint letters, too."

Informers land Bandra police in a soup

In an extreme misuse of ties involving the Bandra police in June last year, a police informer trapped an innocent youth in a drug case. The detection team of the Bandra police paid a heavy price for this error and many were even suspended.

The said police informer misled the cops about a Vakola-based youth. Following his leads, four policemen from Bandra barged into the boy's Kalina residence early one day, accusing him of drug peddling. They assaulted him and hauled him to the police station. The plot was hatched by the informer to help a Vakola-based man evacuate his property, which had been usurped by the youth. "It was the biggest blow to the cops by a khabri. A classic example of how the informer uses cops for his personal vendetta. The city police had taken a big lesson from this episode," said an IPS level officer, on condition of anonymity.

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