New Delhi: Why did the team that raided the flat at Batla House on September 19, 2008 not wear bullet proof vests? That’s one of the many questions surrounding the controversial shoot-out that resulted in the death of a Delhi Police inspector and became a political issue.
Twelve years later, the officer who spearheaded the anti-terrorist operation has claimed to provide some of the answers in his book, Batla House: An Encounter That Shook the Nation.
Karnal Singh, a retired Indian Police Service officer of the 1984 batch, who was joint commissioner of Delhi Police’s Special Cell at the time writes why inspector Mohan Chand Sharma, who was killed in the shoot-out and how the encounter acquired political colour despite the police claiming to possess irrefutable evidence against alleged Indian Mujahideen (IM) members who were hiding in the flat. Two suspected terrorists were also killed in the shoot-out.
According to the book, Singh’s team managed to piece together evidence by September 18, 2008 that a telephone number used by Mohammad Atif Ameen, one of those killed in the shoot-out, was key to solving a conspiracy behind a string of blasts in Jaipur (May 13, 2008) and Ahmedabad (July 26, 2008) as well as during serial blasts on September 13, 2008 in Delhi’s Karol Bagh, Connaught Place and Greater Kailash.
After establishing that Atif Ameen was “a person of interest,”Singh ordered his team to capture him alive.
On the evening of September 18, a small team was sent to Batla House to conduct a recce and familiarise itself with the area.
“The team was unanimous in its decision to raid Atif’s location , L-18, Batla House. The crucial question was, when? It was the month of Ramadan and, hence, not advisable to search in the evening or night. Mohan suggested that we should search Batla House during daytime since this is the time when they would be resting at home,” writes Singh.
Two teams were formed for carrying out the September 19, 2008 operation. An 18-member team was led by Mohan Chand Sharma while deputy commissioner of police Sanjeev Yadav (assistant commissioner at that time) led the second team.
Seconds before the raid was to start, around 11 am on September 19, Singh got a call from Sharma who said: “Sir there are people inside L-18. We are going in”.
“After about 10 minutes, my phone rang. This time it was Sanjeev (Yadav). ‘Sir, Mohan and Head Constable Balwant have been shot and are being shifted to hospital. The terrorists are also injured but they are inside the house’. His voice was choking, as if he was in tears”.
This is when Singh and then Special Cell DCP Alok Kumar rushed to Batla House.
On reaching the flat, Singh asked his team to explain the sequence of events. “Rahul (one of the officers) explained that Mohan was leading the front team. All the team members, except Dharmender, were asked by Mohan to be in casual wear. This was done to ensure even if the target was not found in the apartment, the team could withdraw without anyone knowing about their presence or the search… That was also the reason why none of the team members were wearing bulletproof jackets,” wrote Singh.
The terrorists fired indiscriminately at the first team, he writes. Sharma was hit by two bullets. Head constable Balwant also received a bullet injury, but he survived.
“This case stirred a political storm, instigated a witch-hunt against Special Cell officers, divided public opinion and became a raging controversial topic in the media that continues till date,” he wrote.