Rapid Fire - Top Cop answers. Police Commissioner J.K. Tripathy talks to Ajai Sreevatsan
It has been more than 36 hours since the encounter. What is the definitive account of what happened?
Initially, we had a little information that there was suspicious activity in that area. So, we had some surveillance there. But the exact pinpoint information came around midnight, may be around 12-12.30 a.m. [on Thursday]. Once we got pinpoint information, a party went there to verify the identity of these men.
What time was this?
It must have been around 12.30 a.m. or so. And the suspects didn't open the door. Instead of subjecting themselves to verification, they were in offensive mode.
Neighbours claim that there was police presence in the Housing Board colony from 10 p.m.
As I said, we had some information. So people would have gone there to confirm. But it was not until midnight that we got the specific plot number in which the suspects were holed up.
They claimed to have not heard the gunfight at all.
It is impossible. People right next door not hearing... it is just unbelievable. Anyway, it is for the judicial enquiry to find out. Some people did hear the firing. Their version should also be taken into account.
The police party claim to have broken in through the door. Why was there no noticeable physical damage to the door?
You have a superficial understanding of breaking open a door by force. A door can be forced open without leaving a physical mark. Only by seeing the door from inside, a complete understanding will come. Even I have not gone into the apartment because the crime scene has to be preserved. But I am sure there is some damage to the door.
During the second bank robbery, the police had said there was some evidence that toy guns were used. But seven real guns were found. If somebody had real guns, why would they bring toy guns along for a bank heist?
Have the police seen the guns? The only ones who saw the guns during the robbery were amateurs (the bank staff and customers) who had no idea about guns at all.
The police properly identified only one of the suspects, based on which you found the house. What about the other four? How were you so certain that they were the ones who were involved in the robbery?
But we went to the house only for verification. Did they subject themselves for verification? Which innocent person will pick up a gun and fire at the police? That night, it is true that we did not know their identity. We were not certain even about whether the person in the CCTV footage was indeed inside. But whether they were bank robbers or dacoits, someone who raises a gun against the police and civilians is a criminal. They may have been innocent for this particular case, but they had no rights to raise guns against the enforcement agency.
Is it normal procedure for the police to go for a verification with so many guns?
Of course. Why not? When I know they are in possession of guns, we have to be prepared, no?
So why weren't the police wearing bullet proof vests?
For that, you need time. And we don't supply the bullet proof jackets to the stations and all. We don't go to all places equipped with bullet proof jackets.
Are you certain you got the right men?
Yes. We have confirmation from bank officials who have seen them. We also have secondary confirmation from people who deal with the purchase and sale of second-hand motorcycles. One day before both the bank robberies, the suspects had bought a second-hand bike, which they sold back to the same dealer a few days after the robbery. The dates match the dates of offence.
Was it inevitable that all five of them should die?
The question of when to stop and where to stop is a bit complex. I would have loved to have all the five alive. It would have helped us recover the remaining property. It would have helped us to know what other incidents they have been involved in. We could have probed if they were part of a national-level network.
Is an encounter killing any form of justice at all?
Absolutely not. It is a last resort.