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“…The Law Is In Place Since 1885. So What?”

Ahead of the planned march in Mumbai against ACP Dhoble, we bring you an interview with him

Rolling Stone IN Jun 22, 2012

Photo: Tejeshwar Balachandar

The bête noire of Mumbai’s night life, Assistant Commissioner of Police Vasant Dhoble does not inspire much fear when you meet him during the day. He is a large man, but his demeanor is sombre, almost gentle. He is soft-spoken and courteous. Yet, behind his chair, in his office at the Crawford Market headquarters of the Mumbai Police, lies a hockey-stick, placed almost as if to remind you of the time he wielded it in public while penalizing a restaurant. Interview by Dustin Silgardo & Jaideep Dave.

What are the aims of the social service department?

Whatever problems society is facing, they can be covered by the social service department. This includes prostitution, places where drugs are being taken. We raid any place where there is prostitution: brothels, beauty parlours; then there are spas, massage centres. Also, the orchestra bars, discotheques, where girls are being trafficked. There are these service bars where girls are molested there and then itself. So the SS branch comes into the picture then. Then there are gambling dens that we raid. 

Hookah parlours are another problem. Young girls are taken there and get addicted to hookah. Hookah is expensive so then their pocket money doesn’t suffice and so they try to get money by way of theft or by getting ready to get molested. That’s why we target hookah parlours. Almost 95 per cent of the hookah parlours have shut down and 90 per cent of gambling dens have been raided. Also, 50 per cent of the bars have been shut and reopened as eateries. So these are the things I am trying to achieve. 

When did you start your clamp down on Mumbai’s nightspots? 

I was posted in this department in March 2011. Since then, I have been cracking down on everything and conducting raids. Last year, I registered 80 cases against prostitution and rescued more than 650 girls. This year, there have already been 46 cases registered and we have rescued more than 350 girls. 

How many places you have raided in total?

I haven’t kept count. I have raided 80 places for prostitution but I don’t have a count of how many places I have raided for different reasons.

Are all your raids successful? Do you always find crime occurring in the places you raid? 

Not all raids are successful. But, in most places, we could do something [penalize the establishment for one rule or another]. There were about 97 places raided for gambling last year. This year, there have been more than 45. 

How do you decide which places to raid? How do you get information that establishments are flouting the law?

It’s all from citizens. So many people are sending letters, emails, SMSes and calling me, complaining about illegal activities in places near them. They give me the information.

But you don’t have police gathering information?

It’s not necessary. I am already overloaded with the information I get from the citizens.

What do the citizens say when they call you?

They want to get the places raided and stop all this nonsense. Stop these illegal activities. These places are mushrooming like anything.

There are reports that bar and pub owners are spying on you ”¦

That’s them doing their job. How can I do anything? How can I tell them to stop following me? How can I stop anyone from writing anything against me? How can I stop someone from putting a spoke in a running wheel? They are doing their job. There are many people in the society who support me and support the cause of stopping illegal activities. So many of them want to help in small ways and do so by contributing information.

But some of them don’t want to stop illegal activities, either for their own benefit or for some vested interests. These tabloids who write negative things about me may have some interest in illegal activities not being halted. But it’s okay. I am also happy tabloids are writing about me so I can also see what I’m doing wrong and can take care of those things on the next raid.

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You have fined a lot of bars and discos for overcrowding. That’s a very old law. Why is it being enforced only now?

These are rules which are in place since 1960s. But the law is law. It is in place since 1885. So what? Is that outdated? Now see, if a restaurant has an area of 500 square feet [draws a square for us on a paper], how many people can fit in it? We have a rule called occupancy. The calculation has decided how many people can be accommodated in a certain area. It has concluded that 166 people can be accommodated in 1000 sq ft, so 77 people in 500 sq ft. [continues to draw].

 Anything more than that is overcrowding. But it’s okay; if the law says they can accommodate 166 people, and they accommodate 200, that’s okay. But when they start accommodating 500 people, then it’s not possible for the police or any of the girls to enter the restaurant from the entrance or to leave from the exit gate.

 So many people, where will they go? They can do nothing but get trampled. So many people will have to lose their life. For what? Why are they allowing this overcrowding? For what? They can’t even sit and eat with a plate. They are all standing near the bar and holding the drinks above their head because they don’t have place even for a glass.

But what is your opinion on some of those rules?

I will say, at most, that everybody should abide by the law.

But times change. Shouldn’t laws change?

That we will see. When the time comes, if laws need to be changed they will be. 

Do you think bars and pubs have become complacent in following the rules?

These bars are not here to take care of people. They just want to make money and people have just gone crazy for what reason I don’t know why. You know all these discotheques are playing music with their disc jockeys, the people are dancing like mad. They are enjoying themselves, that’s a different issue, but at what cost? We don’t want to disturb their happiness or fun, or whatever it is. We are just thinking in terms of emergencies.

 If people lose their life, we cannot bring it back. Who will be blamed then? The hotel management? No. The hotel management, they are so clever. They just appoint a caretaker. The real owners are sitting at home. The person who is left in charge is just a manager; no, less than that, he’s like a caretaker. In case something goes wrong that person will just disappear. He is just a laborer. Then the owners will show some agreement or document saying they appointed a caretaker and he is responsible. So if something goes wrong, then who is responsible?

 How many places have you raided for overcrowding?

All discotheques are overcrowded. But we won’t raid even if there are 200 people. We raid when it’s not possible for us to enter. And you can openly see yaar what is overcrowding.

 Do you think the media has been biased against you?

Why should I care? Why should I think about what they want? They are doing their job. I am least bothered about what is written. I am doing my duty. My superiors and the government have no problem with me, so why should I care about these things?

But don’t you want a better public image?

Why should I care? Is the public going to kill me? No. Is the fact that the public is against me going to have any adverse affect on me? No. My superiors, my commissioner, knows what I am doing. The government also wants to do this [clamp down on illegal activities associated with nightlife]. So why should I care about anything else?

Has the commissioner given you a target of a specific number of places you must raid?

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There is nothing like target. Whatever places have illegal activities, they will be raided. That is the target. You can’t decide we want to raid 500 places. How can you do that?

The rules have not changed since you were appointed to this post. Yet, before your tenure, there were a number of establishments that were open till much later than 1:30am. Were the police not doing their job efficiently then?

How can I talk about the past and what my predecessors were doing? How can I say whether they were raiding places or not? Maybe they were doing it but it wasn’t getting much media attention. How can I opine on my own about why they were not doing these things.

Do you think people are not aware that they are doing something wrong when they go to, say, an overcrowded discotheque?

That is what na.

I mean, are citizens not well informed about the laws?

Not at all. You were knowing what is overcrowding or what?

No, we didn’t know

But forget about the law. You can also see how crowded it is with your own eyes. It’s not necessary to know the law. With just common sense, even if you don’t know the law, you can say what is wrong and what is right.

We are an overcrowded city, even regular eateries are crowded. Trains are crowded.

Trains are a necessity. You can’t function without them. It is not a necessity to go to pubs at 12 at night and for one pub to have so many people is not a necessity?

 Do you feel like you’re helping society?

Of course yes. If I can prevent one hazard, if I can save one life, then I will be satisfied. I am not here to show that I have arrested so many thousands of people and put them behind bars. But if I save a life, I will be happy to say it.

Do you agree with some of the laws we have, like the law requiring drinking permits and the age limit for hard liquor?

It’s not up to the police to make the law, that’s up to the legislation, police just implement it.

But you did say that you use your common sense, and don’t just follow the law blindly.

Ya, that’s what.

So don’t you think you should also go easy on people without drinking permits?

This question is supposed to be answered by who? Who decides the age limit? Not us. Why am I to decide about whether people should have drinking permits? Police are here only to implement the law. If the police were making decisions about what the laws should be, the public would not be allowed to come on the road [smiles].

 There are groups of young people who are gathering to protest against you. Do you think these people will be successful?

How many are they? One percent of the population? Not even one percent. You can’t endanger lives for the sake of this 0.1 percent. How many people want to be on the roads after midnight? How many?

Not many. Perhaps just 50 or 60,000

Fifty or sixty thousand??

Well, maybe around 100,000?

No, no. Not even 10,000 people want that. Maybe, around 1,500 odd people want to roam the streets past midnight. And have you seen the girls coming out of these discos after midnight? They are not in the position to stand. They are coming out of clubs with their shoes in their hands. They are literally uplifted (sic) by their colleagues and friends and put into the car. They don’t even know where they are going.

But moral policing is not our job. We don’t do it. We are not taking action against patrons. We are taking action against the place themselves, who are flouting laws. We are not penalizing people for being on the road after 1:30am. We are penalizing establishments that are open after 1:30am. 


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