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How The 'Encounter Specialists' Of Bombay Crime Branch Became Larger-than-life Figures

12 Maharashtra police officers took on Mumbai’s underworld and broke its back. All of them fell from grace faster than their trek to fame.

Illustration: Saahil

It was January 11, 1982, and the then Bombay Police had received a tip-off, reportedly from the Dawood Ibrahim gang, that another gangster, Manohar Surve alias Manya, would be visiting a beauty salon located near the Ambedkar College junction in Wadala. At around 1.30 pm, 18 officers of the Mumbai Crime Branch split into three teams, awaiting his arrival. After about 20 minutes, Surve was spotted stepping out of a taxi. Before the gangster could fire from his Webley & Scott revolver, the police pumped five bullets into his chest and shoulder. A few minutes later, he succumbed to his injuries in an ambulance as he was being taken to Sion Hospital. This was the first recorded encounter against a gangster by the police in Mumbai. It was also the beginning of a new chapter in the city’s criminal underworld.

In the late 1980s, new recruits passing out of the Maharashtra Police Academy in Nashik only had one destination in mind, Bombay, a posting with potential money and influence. At that time, the underworld in Mumbai was flush with money and firepower; and kidnappings, contract killings and extortions were just another day in office. Inter-gang rivalry for the supremacy of Mumbai played out on the streets and gangsters like Karim Lala, Babu Reshim and Rajan Nair (known as Bada Rajan) were engaged in carrying out hits against each other. The powerful Pathan gangs were in a pitched battle against the brash Dawood Ibrahim. There was palpable fear among the people and they were growing restless over ‘police inaction’.

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