For the first time in its history, Kolkata is watching a team of detectives visiting hotels, resorts and government offices to track down Rajeev Kumar, a former commissioner of the city police.
As the unique manhunt entered its twelfth day on Tuesday, some officers whom 53-year-old Rajeev Kumar led till a few months ago said the job would be near impossible for the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
Kumar, the officers said, is a master in electronic surveillance who transformed the methods of crime detection of the Kolkata Police that he headed till the last Lok Sabha polls. The computer engineer from IIT-Roorkee later took charge of the criminal investigation department (CID) of the West Bengal police.
The 1989-batch Indian Police Service (IPS) officer procured surveillance drones, security cameras, tracking devices and an array of electronic gadgets for his force and organised training sessions.
Over the years, Kumar, who has always maintained a very low profile and avoided the media, gained the confidence of the Left and Trinamool Congress governments solely because of his high success rate in tracking down terrorists and mafia bosses.
The top officer is wanted for questioning in the CBI’s Saradha and Rose Valley chit fund investigations. The Calcutta High Court on September 13 vacated its interim order granting Kumar protection from arrest.
Soon after that, Kumar’s mobile phone, and that of his security staff, went silent, making it impossible for the CBI to track his probable location.
“Kumar made it apparent that he would rather go under the radar than be questioned by a central agency while his lawyers moved courts for an anticipatory bail order. Since he faced questions from CBI earlier, Kumar probably felt that the agency might have got hold of something that can jeopardise his career,” said a senior Calcutta High Court lawyer who did not wish to be named.
“Why else would a decorated IPS officer, who is known to be close to the chief minister, disappear? After all, he is not named in any chargesheet CBI has filed,” the lawyer said.
On September 18, a team of 12 CBI officers arrived in Kolkata from Delhi and Uttar Pradesh to add teeth to the manhunt. The officers have spoken to Kumar’s wife Sanchita, an Indian Revenue Service officer, four times and even visited his ancestral home at Chandauli in Uttar Pradesh, only to find it locked.
Several Kolkata Police officers HT talked to said most officers and constables in Kolkata Police love and respect Kumar for his qualities and the manner in which he treats his juniors.
“If he wants, he will find a safe place in the house of any Kolkata Police staff or any office of the force. The CBI team cannot possibly search hundreds of premises, that too without a warrant,” said a Kolkata Police officer who worked under Kumar in two crucial investigations.
“He will definitely not stay with friends or relatives since it is easy to locate them. Also, he will definitely not check into a hotel or resort because he can be spotted by people and security cameras,” the officer, who did not wish to be named, said.
“If he is using a phone, he will probably make only VOIP (voice over internet protocol) calls using a secured WiFi network. We have seen him doing that many times,” another officer said on condition of anonymity.
During his long career with the Kolkata Police, Kumar turned the Special Task Force into a formidable weapon against the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and organised criminal gangs.
Former Delhi Police commissioner Neeraj Kumar, in his book ‘Dial D for Don’ wrote how Kumar, while serving as CID’s special superintendent of police tracked down Aftab Ansari, the Dubai-based mafia boss who masterminded the attack on the American Centre in Kolkata in 2002.
Neeraj Kumar also wrote how he caught the kidnappers of shoe baron Partha Roy Burman. The co-owner of Khadim’s was abducted in 2001 by Ansari’s men who wanted to use the ransom for terror attacks.
In both high-profile cases, Kumar made extensive use of counter-surveillance techniques since the gangs were using international SIM cards and frequently changing numbers to avoid detection.
Leaders of the West Bengal unit of the BJP always kept Kumar in their crosshairs. Soon after he took over as head of the city police, the party alleged that two police officers tried to bribe the BJP’s national secretary Rahul Sinha. The incident took place after Narada sting videos, showing TMC leaders purportedly accepting money, surfaced.
In September 2018, audio clips of a conversation purportedly between the BJP’s national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya and national executive member Mukul Roy was leaked to the media. Roy alleged that Kumar was behind it.
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