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The Calculated ‘Luck’ of Pradeep Sharma: How He Evaded the Law All This While

Until his conviction, the encounter specialist dodged almost every case against him. Lucky? Likely, by design.

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A little after midnight on 31 August 2008, as encounter specialist Pradeep Sharma waited in his Malad apartment, a team of police officers knocked at his door, bearing his dismissal orders. Sharma was expecting the papers. His friends in the police force had already tipped him off, just as they had derailed multiple previous inquiries against him. And then, only momentarily, as had always been the case, Sharma’s ‘luck’ ran out.  

By then, Sharma had become a law unto himself, and his dismissal was the result of a protracted inquiry by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) over two years. There had been a horde of allegations against the encounter specialist at the time — that he had amassed Rs 300 crore from Mumbai's thriving underworld during his 25 years in service (some reports claimed disproportionate wealth of over Rs 3000 crore), that he was on the payroll of fugitive terrorist Dawood Ibrahim, that he had helped two real estate developers, both reportedly close to Dawood’s gang, take forceful possession of a 2,305-sq-m plot in Malad, and that he had linked deals with gangsters Abu Salem, Ejaz Lakdawala, and Hemant Poojari. 

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“Sharma has acquired properties worth crores in the name of Dawood’s associates,” gangster Chhota Rajan told a Marathi news channel a few days before Sharma’s dismissal, “He has lots of money and claims no one can take action against him because he has bought off everyone, even the Home Ministry and the police department.”

The IB, which was tracking Dawood’s links with terror outfits, had recorded conversations of his aide, Chhota Shakeel. They discovered that Shakeel was in touch with Sharma. The IB then prepared a detailed dossier, which included Sharma’s alleged proximity to the underworld, recordings of his conversations, and details of his properties and investments. The crime branch, too, conducted its own investigation, despite multiple attempts to derail the previous inquiry against the tainted officer.  

According to a news report from 2008, “When Home Minister R R Patil ordered an inquiry into the charges of disproportionate assets levelled against Sharma by Shiv Sena leader Ramdas Kadam, attempts were made to stall it. Patil gave the inquiry to additional commissioner Sadanand Date, but efforts were made to derail this move as well.” 

In August 2008, thus, Sharma was dismissed – twelve years after the first allegations of his connections with the underworld cropped up.  

“I am feeling sad that people who work are being targeted,” Sharma told the press at the time, “I was never given any punishment in the past 25 years but suddenly, I have been served a dismissal order. I’ll fight it out in court.” 

And fight he did. Eight months after his dismissal, Sharma was reinstated.  

How Much of it Was Luck? Or Was it All By Design?

Everybody knows the Pradeep Sharma story — 112 encounters, India’s deadliest cop, Mumbai’s Dirty Harry, featured by TIME magazine, immortalized by popular culture, and king of one-liners like, “Criminals are filth. And I’m the cleaner.” Starting with the infamous 1983 batch of the Maharashtra Police Academy, Sharma has had a long career, from a cop to politician, until his great fall recently, when the Bombay High Court convicted and sentenced him to life imprisonment for the encounter killing of Ramnarayan Gupta, alias Lakhan Bhaiya. A prolonged fall until this week, when his ‘luck’ seems to have finally run out.

Was it luck though? I have my doubts. Luck occurs by chance, and if it recurs, I wonder if it’s luck or something premeditated, calculated, and by design. Take, for instance, the Lakhan Bhaiya encounter case. The stage-managed murder would probably not have happened if Sharma hadn’t been “lucky” in yet another case — the Khwaja Yunus custodial murder of 2003.  

In January 2003, Yunus, a software engineer and an accused in the Ghatkopar blast case of December 2002, disappeared under mysterious circumstances. The police claimed that Yunus escaped from a police jeep, while his family alleged that Yunus had been killed in police custody. Their allegation was supported by another accused in the case, who claimed to have heard Yunus wail as the police tortured him. The CID subsequently filed a case of murder.  

Three years later, in October 2006, the Bombay High Court suggested appropriate action against ten police officers, including Sharma. Nine of these ten officers were transferred, the only exception being Sharma.  

A month after the High Court’s order, on November 11, 2006, Lakhan Bhaiya was killed. The officer was handed his transfer orders only in February 2007. However, within four months, in June 2007, the state CID exonerated him and six other cops in the case, and Sharma’s transfer orders were cancelled.  

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Another time Sharma was “lucky” was in 2013, when the trial court in the Lakhan Bhaiya encounter case convicted 21 of the 22 accused, including 13 cops. The only exception, again, was Sharma, even as the prosecution, while seeking Sharma's conviction, had argued that he was the main conspirator and chief of the entire operation of abduction and murder.

Then, in June 2021, the National Investigation Agency arrested Sharma in the Anitilia bomb scare case, where an explosives-laden SUV was discovered outside the residence of billionaire Mukesh Ambani, and subsequently, Mansukh Hiran, a Thane-based car accessories shop owner, was murdered.

In August last year, Sharma was granted bail, even as most of his co-accused like former police officer Sachin Waze remain behind bars. News reports claim that even when Sharma was in jail, “there had been complaints about him having spent a chunk of his incarcerated time in the hospital on grounds of his ill-health or being granted medical bail on account of ailment faced by a family member.”  

While convicting Sharma in the Lakhan Bhaiya encounter case on Tuesday, the Bombay High Court termed the 2013 trial court’s judgement acquitting him as “perverse” and “unsustainable.” The High Court convicted the former officer on all charges, including criminal conspiracy, murder, kidnapping and wrongful confinement, observing, "The trial court had overlooked the overwhelming evidence available against Sharma. The common chain of evidence unerringly proves his involvement in the case."  

With Sharma’s fate now sealed by the Bombay High Court, his ‘luck’ seems to have finally run out, unless, of course, he manages relief from the Supreme Court in the three intervening weeks he has before surrendering. Though possible, it seems difficult.

That’s the thing about luck: it changes.  

(Puja Changoiwala is an award-winning journalist and author based in Mumbai. This is her website. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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