After 39 years of service, ACP Vasant Dhoble is set to hang up his boots (or hockey stick) on May 31; in an exclusive interview to mid-day, he speaks about his career, his pride in his achievements even though they were often embroiled in controversy, and his desire to spend his sunset years farming in his village
Vasant Dhoble (58), the hockey stick-wielding, six-foot tall ACP whose name made owners and patrons of the city’s restaurants and pubs quiver in fear barely three years ago, and probably still does, is set to retire from the Mumbai Police by the end of this month.
And, in what seems rather anti-climactic, the man who had been endowed with the epithet ‘Public Enemy No 1’ by Pritish Nandy, had been the subject of a protest by a 1,000-strong crowd, who accused him of ‘Talibanising’ Mumbai, and had nearly 108 cases filed against him in the course of a controversial career, is going to spend his sunset years farming in his village.
Dhoble became one of the best-known figures in the Mumbai Police and earned the title of an anti-nightlife crusader when he began a series of raids on bars and restaurants in 2012. Pics/Shadab Khan
Catapulted to limelight
In 2012, Dhoble, who was heading the Social Service (SS) Branch, became one of the best-known figures in the Mumbai Police and earned the title of an anti-nightlife crusader when he began a series of raids on bars and restaurants.
His detractors accused him of throwing the rulebook, containing ancient rules, at bars and patrons and indulging in moral policing. He had even been accused of booking patrons of pubs for prostitution, a charge that he was later cleared of.
The cases had piled up so high that Dhoble told mid-day yesterday that he was happy he was getting to have a regular retirement rather than the forced one he always feared. For restaurant and bar owners, meanwhile, the image of the hockey stick-wielding Dhoble never failed to strike fear.
Known for keeping his cards close to his chest vis-a-vis raid locations and conducting the raids with just three or four constables, bar owners took to distributing his photos among their staffers to ensure they would be alert if he entered the premises. Bar owners had also hired a set of people to trail Dhoble to get a sense of possible raid locations.
The ACP, however, inevitably emerged the winner in this cat-and-mouse game by shaking off his tail. Recalling those days, Dhoble said, “One day, my boss, then police commissioner Arup Patnaik called me into his cabin. He ordered me to take over the Social Service Branch as ACP.
Since I had worked with him in the past, he was aware of my style of functioning. I knew that there was a lot that needed to be done in the SS branch. I asked him only one question, whether I would get freedom, and he replied, ‘Dhoble, do whatever is in the purview of the law and act only against what is illegal’. The rest is history.”
Within a few months, Dhoble became a household name in Mumbai. Newspapers printed a series of articles against him some in favour, many against. Whether Dhoble was ruining the city’s nightlife and ruining its image or cleaning it up became a hotly-debated topic and news channels also carried several bulletins on the police crackdown with Dhoble as a key figure.
No stranger to controversies (see box), Dhoble became the subject of many more following his surge in popularity and court cases began piling up one after another. “I was always ready for a court appearance. The white shirt and black trousers, which I usually wear, were kept ready and when I started raiding the bars, I was sued multiple times.
Thankfully I have been cleared of most of the charges against me,” he added. “I have served the force for 39 long years. During my tenure, I had never imagined that I would be able to serve the department till retirement.
Given the kind of publicity I got, the controversies that dogged me, and the powerful lobby that was conspiring against me, I had always feared I would be dismissed from my job. But, thankfully, truth has prevailed and I am leaving the force with dignity,” said the ACP.
Dhoble’s retreat into the shadows was also as swift as his rise to virtual stardom, which lasted only till Arup Patnaik held the top cop’s post. When Patnaik was transferred following the 2012 Azad Maidan riots, Dr Satyapal Singh took over as the police chief, and Dhoble was transferred out of the SS branch soon after.
He was posted as the ACP of Vakola Division where he was in charge of just two police stations. Following a controversy involving a hawker’s death, he was shunted to the Missing Persons Bureau in September 2014, from where he will retire as ACP on May 31.
mid-day reports on Dhoble
Dhoble’s backers, however, point to how he conducted scores of raids at brothels and dance bars, rescuing more than 1,300 girls. “He was also one of those officers who could never be bribed. No one could doubt his integrity in that aspect,” said a Mumbai police official.
Dhoble was also lauded for his impartiality and courage in acting against actor Vivek Oberoi in 2012 for smoking and against then health minister Suresh Shetty’s son, Kshitij, who was having a hookah in Andheri. He also raided a bungalow owned by a Mumbai Police DCP, where a brothel was allegedly being run in the guise of a spa. The DCP was suspended.
“When I got posted with the SS Branch I studied its workings minutely and realised that there is lot that needs to be done. I ensured that before going ahead with the raids, proper evidence was in place against the premises that were raided. I had registered more than 550 cases against bars, hookah parlours, gambling den and discotheques.
Around 1,300 girls were rescued and 6,000 bar owners, staffers and pimps were placed under arrest. Also more than 400 kids, who were pushed into child labour were rescued by us,” said Dhoble. Even in the Missing Persons Bureau, Dhoble managed to impress his bosses by tracing thousands of missing kids and youngsters.
When he was asked about his retirement plans, Dhoble said, “ I belong to a farmer’s family. Every weekend, I visit Manchar in Pune district, which is my hometown and I engage in farming. My heart lies in farming and that is what I’ll probably end up doing after I retire. The other alternative is to join my son, who is planning to start a business.
He has completed his PhD from a university in New Zealand and returned to Mumbai earlier this month.” “I will continue to trace missing persons even after retirement. Will join an NGO and it’ll be great if an organisation is willing to back us in this cause,” he added.
>> Dhoble joined the Mumbai Police on July 1, 1976, as a sub-inspector and controversies began dogging him soon after. In 1983, he was booked for the custodial death of one Abdul Gafar. Gafar’s wife had claimed that Dhoble who was then attached with the D N Nagar police station had beaten her husband with a hockey stick, causing his death. “A local court had convicted Dhoble, sentenced him to a seven-year term and fined him R1 lakh. But, the Bombay HC had acquitted him of all charges,” said a police officer.
>> Dhoble was embroiled in a controversy again for an encounter in 1997, when Samajwadi Party leader Abu Asim Azmi had raised questions about the alleged encounter of Abu Salem gang member Javed Shaikh. Azmi had claimed that Dhoble had shot dead an innocent peanut vendor in Ballard Estate, mistaking him for the gangster in August 1997. But Dhoble was cleared of that charge by the Bombay High Court.
>> In 2012, Dhoble had raided Café Zoe in Lower Parel and was criticised for slapping an ancient overcrowding rule on it.
>> When he was the ACP in Vakola, Dhoble began a drive against unauthorized hawkers, which led to another controversy when a hawker died after seeing Dhoble with his hockey stick. It was later learnt that the hawker died of a heart attack, but that incident was the end of Dhoble’s fame. There was an inquiry against him and he was taken back in the force when the heart attack angle was revealed. This time he was posted in the missing persons bureau.