Thursday, 20 January, 2022
HomeStateDraftUP's 'Singham' IPS officer says there's nothing to like about an encounter-specialist...

UP’s ‘Singham’ IPS officer says there’s nothing to like about an encounter-specialist tag

IPS officer Ajay Pal Sharma, who won fame and notoriety from encounter killings, has 9 such deaths to his credit, and claims to have injured around 190 ‘criminals’.

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Lucknow: The Uttar Pradesh Police has been in the news for arrests of journalists and others for social media posts. Many commented about how, under Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, the state’s police has become too powerful — turning the so-called ‘jungle raj’ of the previous Akhilesh Yadav government into ‘police raj’ — first with the series of encounter killings, and now the heavy-handed arrests.

One police officer who gained fame and notoriety from the encounter killings is Ajay Pal Sharma. He earned awards, promotions, was hailed as UP’s ‘Singham’, and became part of the WhatsApp forward folklore too.

But he has also become the target of cases filed by eminent human rights lawyer and activists like Prashant Bhushan and Harsh Mander.

The police watchdog

Last year, when the swashbuckling Sharma was posted in Noida, a telling incident happened. He fancies himself as a watchdog — of not just the criminals, but also his police force.

In 2018, there was a purported rate list being circulated in Uttar Pradesh’s Gautam Buddh Nagar district of how much bribe is taken by which police officer. Sharma decided to check it out for himself with a surprise inspection.

On a Friday night in May last year, Sharma donned plainclothes, hopped into an autorickshaw and then a Toyota Fortuner SUV, to roam the streets of Noida and Greater Noida.

He ensured that the registration number of his SUV was flashed on the police’s wireless network for searching. Barricades were put up across the Gautam Buddha Nagar (Noida) district. When the car drove past one barricade, a constable chased the vehicle, stopped it, and trained his gun on Sharma.

Sharma, who was then a senior superintendent of police (SSP), rewarded the constable with Rs 500 for his alertness. Meanwhile, a sub-inspector attached to a PCR vehicle who did not act when he spotted the SUV was suspended.

Sharma’s team subsequently issued a statement along with photographs of him in the autorickshaw. This, and another photo of him holding a gun, soon found their way into the WhatsApp universe.

A year later, when the police administration in Noida changed hands, Sharma’s public relations officer, inspector Manoj Pant, was put behind bars for his alleged involvement in an extortion case.

A former dentist

Speaking to ThePrint, Sharma said he was disheartened by reports about police personnel’s alleged involvement in crime, but added that one should wait for the trial to end before forming an opinion.

A former dentist, Sharma is a 2011-batch IPS officer from Ludhiana. Through his eight years in service, he has served in Ghaziabad, Hathras, Shamli, Gautam Buddha Nagar, and Prayagraj (formerly Allahabad).

He is currently posted in Rampur as SSP.

As the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) assumed office in Uttar Pradesh in 2017, a spate of encounters ensued amid a much-publicised push by the administration to rein in lawlessness.

In March 2018, Sharma, then the superintendent of police (SP) for Shamli, was among several police officers felicitated by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath for their “exemplary services”.

Sharma’s tenure in Shamli coincided with an alleged spurt in extortion by local Muslim gangs, which was suspected to have triggered a Hindu exodus from the district.

By his own admission, Sharma has at least nine encounter deaths to his credit, and claims to have injured around 190 alleged criminals in other encounters.

Weeks after the felicitation, Sharma was promoted to the SSP rank and transferred to Gautam Buddha Nagar district, one of the most sought-after postings in the state.

Sharma said “there was nothing to like about” the “encounter specialist” tag attached to his name.

“These encounters did not happen by will, it was just chance,” he added. “We want to arrest criminals, make recoveries and collect the maximum information on their hiding places, their other gang members, etc. This is the last option.

“We do not know what situation arises on the ground,” he said.

Many celebrate the “crackdown” on criminals led by police, but Sharma has also faced allegations of staged encounters.

‘Unexpected turns in seconds’

A senior state police officer told ThePrint that there had been complaints of staged encounters and corruption against Sharma filed with Yogi Adityanath’s office and the UP police headquarters, but no action had been taken.

One case of an alleged fake encounter involves an alleged criminal named Akbar, who was killed in Shamli in February last year.

According to his family, Akbar was picked up by Sharma’s team from Bengaluru hours before his death.

“He had been out on bail since 2015, following which he started working in Bengaluru as a garment hawker,” a relative of his told ThePrint.

“Around a week before his encounter, Akbar had come home (Shamli)… When he went back, he was informed by his friends here that his name was on a list of criminals who might be picked up or injured in an encounter,” he added.

Another case involves an encounter that occurred on 2 January last year, which resulted in two deaths, those of a suspected criminal named Sabbir and a police constable Ankit Tomar.

The complainant in this case was Sharma himself, though it’s unusual for officers of his rank to file complaints. While Sharma’s complaint maintained that none of Sabbir’s family members was home during the encounter, his family claims otherwise.

Describing how police had allegedly arrived at their home in Shamli’s Jandhedi village late on the night of 2 January, a relative said: “Sabbir had escaped from custody and, for several days before the encounter, police had been building pressure on us to make him surrender. We were scared of what they might do to him, but before we could take a decision, they landed here and he was killed.”

His actions in Shamli, Sharma told ThePrint, were just aimed at curbing the activities of the aforementioned gangs.

He said poking holes in these cases came easy to people. “It is very difficult to face a bullet. As a team leader, you have to ensure that no civilians are injured and that the team members are safe,” he told ThePrint.

“In Sabbir’s case, we lost our constable and were on the verge of losing an inspector,” he said. “Things take unexpected turns within seconds.”

Read ThePrint’s exhaustive coverage of encounters in UP, here


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