Terror-busters with chequered history of own
Vijaita Singh profiles the elite Special Cell of the Delhi Police, currently in the eye of a storm after the killing of a man in a Delhi restaurant in an alleged fake encounter over the weekend.
What is the Special Cell of Delhi Police?
An elite unit of the force, whose main job is to probe terror-related cases. Many of the most high-profile cases that have received extensive media coverage and generated commentary over the past decade or more have been investigated by the Special Cell.
When did it come into existence?
The Special Cell was created in 1986, in the wake of the militancy in Punjab. After the riots in Delhi in 1984, the need was articulated to create a special unit to deal with cases related to extremism in Punjab, and other terror-related incidents in general.
What is the organisational structure of the Special Cell?
There are three ranges of the Special Cell, each headed by a DCP-rank officer: the Northern, Southern and New Delhi Range (NDR). The Special Cell as a whole comprises more than 750 personnel, and is headed by a Special Commissioner-rank officer who reports to the Commissioner of Delhi Police. By precedent, all terror-related cases have been handled by the NDR, while the NR and SR are most frequently called in to investigate cases other than those related to terrorism. The delegation of work is decided by the Delhi Police chief.
What is the mandate of the Special Cell? Can it probe other criminal cases as well?
It can investigate cases of organised crime, and those involving hardened criminals. But its primary focus is on terror-related cases. Only when there are not enough terror-related inputs, is it allowed to take up other kinds of cases. There have been instances of overlap among the kinds of cases that are to be investigated by the Special Cell and the Crime Branch.
Does the Special Cell have more elbow room to operate than other wings of the police?
The Special Cell is believed to have a close working relationship with the Intelligence Bureau, which has been understood to have passed on tip-offs to the Cell on a number of occasions, allegedly due to turf wars among the states to crack terror-related cases. It helps that both the Delhi Police and IB are located in Delhi, and report to the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Which big cases has the Special Cell been involved in of late?
It was the Special Cell that cracked the first-ever module of the Indian Mujahideen (IM) following the 2008 serial blasts in Delhi. Special Cell Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma was killed in the Batla House encounter. This first breakthrough by the Special Cell led to the busting of several modules of the IM later by police of other states, including the Mumbai Crime Branch. The credit for two big arrests of the recent past — Yasin Bhatkal, one of the alleged founders of the IM, and Zabiuddin Ansari alias Abu Jundal, one of the alleged conspirators of 26/11 Mumbai attacks — went to the Special Cell following IB inputs.
Can the Special Cell only investigate cases in Delhi?
Terrorism has nationwide ramifications, and the Special Cell has a free hand to investigate cases across India. The Cell has its own network of informers and sources, but works in close tandem with the IB. It has sometimes had run-ins with anti-terror units of other state police forces as well. Before Yasin Bhatkal was arrested in 2013 near the Nepal border, the Special Cell got into a scrap with the Mumbai Police. A Special Cell team had reached that city after being tipped off about Bhatkal’s alleged aides, but the Mumbai Police arrested their ‘source’, leading to a showdown.
Why has the Special Cell been controversial?
Not long before the latest controversy over the killing of Manoj Vashisht erupted, the Special Cell was in trouble over the arrest of former Hizbul Mujahideen militant Syed Liyaqat Shah. The NIA filed a report with the MHA recently, indicting senior officials of Special Cell for framing Liyaqat. Earlier, in January 2012, the then Delhi government had ordered a probe against Sanjeev Yadav, then an additional deputy commissioner of police with the Cell, for the alleged killing of five gangsters from Meerut in a fake encounter near Sonia Vihar in Northeast Delhi in 2006. In 2002, the Cell came under the scanner for killing two alleged LeT terrorists in the parking lot of Ansal Plaza mall.
Who have been the prominent faces of the Special Cell?
The most prominent probably was ACP Rajbir Singh, who was killed by a property dealer in 2005. Singh was allegedly behind several controversial encounters in Delhi. His prodigy, Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma, died in the Batla House incident in 2008. Additional Commissioner of Police Ashok Chand, who has been associated with the Special Cell since 1998, but is currently posted with the Crime Branch, is due to retire in June this year.