May is a month when temperatures in north India cross 40 degrees centigrade routinely. However, undeterred by the searing heat, cricket lovers in Kanpur looked forward to the IPL match at the Green Park Stadium on May 10, 2017, between Delhi Daredevils and Gujarat Lions. We in the ACSU too were excited about this match, but for different reasons. We had received reliable information from one of our assets that an effort would be made to compromise the match. The intelligence input also gave us the telephone numbers of a few bookies who were possibly camping in Kanpur already.
I took a flight to Lucknow from Delhi on May 9 and on arrival drove to Kanpur. It was one of those afternoons when the coal tar topping of the road begins to melt with the heat and you can sense that your vehicle’s tyres are sticking to the road. The road ahead simmers in the heat and you see mirages dancing before your eyes. Mercifully, I was in an air-conditioned Toyota Innova, unaffected by the heat, yet a trifle edgy with thoughts of the task that lay ahead. I had to stop the corruption that was going to happen in its tracks and, if possible, get the perpetrators arrested.
I called up Akash Kulhary, a 2006 batch IPS officer (30 years my junior), who was then posted as senior superintendent of police (SSP) in Kanpur. I had never met him. I called him from my car, still about 45 minutes away from Kanpur, and introduced myself.
I soon let him know the reason why I was visiting his city and asked him how soon he could get some phones under interception. “Sir, maybe half an hour, max,” he said. “I am sending you two numbers on WhatsApp. Please see if you can get them under observation,” I told him. “Sure, sir, it will be done,” he said confidently. Normally, in such situations, police officers act pricey and non-committal, particularly if they do not know the other officer very well. But Akash was clearly a man of action. This is what police camaraderie is all about, I said to myself. A colleague I was yet to meet was ready to help me with no reservations and no questions asked.
When I felt confident of full support from the local police, I asked Anshuman to come to Kanpur along with the informant. After a tortuous and long road journey, they arrived at Kanpur at 2.30 am the following day. They stayed at a modest place close to Hotel Landmark, where both the teams and I were staying. Anshuman, the informant and I met the same morning at breakfast when our asset told us that a Thane-based bookie named Nayan Shah was also staying at Landmark and was attempting to get the pitch doctored through a person called Ramesh Singh who had access to the ground in his capacity as the branding contractor charged with putting up flex boards.
This information was confirmed by the intercepts that Kanpur Police had by then obtained. I decided to go to the stadium and locate Ramesh Singh. I requested Akash Kulhary to instruct one of his officers deployed at the Green Park Stadium, preferably one in uniform, to assist us should the need arise. Akash shared with me the mobile number of an inspector. Both Anshuman and I arrived at the stadium and began to look for Ramesh Singh. There were still a few hours to go for the match to commence. The sun had begun to set, and the floodlights of the stadium were getting switched on, one by one. Last-minute work – erecting a flex board here or a vinyl banner there – was still going on, it being the Indian way of doing things.
After some random enquiries, we were able to locate Ramesh, who was caught totally off guard. We took him to a room meant for anti-corruption officers, and I requested the uniformed inspector to come over. The idea was to let Ramesh believe that he was in police custody so that he cooperated better. But Ramesh was not an easy nut to crack. When he didn’t reveal anything worthwhile even after a long time of questioning, we took him to Hotel Landmark, where his interrogation continued by the poolside.
Both the teams were at the stadium, and the hotel wore a deserted look. When we examined Ramesh’s phone, we found many pictures and videos of the Kanpur pitch being watered. We also found that the photos were forwarded on WhatsApp to a certain number. This was Nayan Shah’s number, which we knew from our informant. Ramesh was now cornered and was running out of excuses. He finally confessed he was working on the orders of Nayan Shah who was in room 1733 at that very moment. Ramesh was an accredited subcontractor for an IPL franchisee and his job was to do branding work inside the stadium.
A quick enquiry at the reception showed that room 1733 had been booked in the name of Vikas Chauhan, a resident of Kanpur. Further enquiries from room service disclosed that there was another person staying with Vikas, whose description matched that of Nayan Shah, as provided by Ramesh. I rang up Akash Kulhary, the SSP, and told him we needed to raid room 1733 immediately. I was aware that he was preoccupied with police deployment at the stadium, and so were all his officers and men.
I requested him to depute one of the officers deployed at the hotel to lend us a helping hand in carrying out the raid. Akash had other ideas, and rightly so. He didn’t take the operation lightly and wanted to provide proper backup. He asked me to hold my horses until his SP (crime) reached me.
Soon Superintendent Rajesh Shrivastava, from Kanpur Police, arrived with a full contingent of armed commandos. I met him on the porch and asked him not to alarm the hotel guests and staff members by barging into the hotel premises with his commandos. I took him to the poolside and briefed him about the progress of our enquiries thus far. He too had a quick word with Ramesh Singh and understood the full import of the case.
We decided to take the help of a waiter, who would first knock on the door while we waited outside in the corridor, out of the view of the room’s magic eye. As soon as the door was opened for the waiter, we would barge in and do what was required. Sure enough, our ruse worked and we were inside room 1733 in a matter of minutes. Nayan Shah and Vikas Chauhan were in the room watching the match in progress on TV. They were startled to suddenly see themselves surrounded by half a dozen cops. They had no option but to meekly give themselves up to the police. Five mobile telephones, each loaded with information about their contacts and networks, and Rs 4.9 lakh in cash were recovered from them.
Further investigations by Kanpur Police showed that having failed to get any player to compromise, Nayan Shah and his gang had given Ramesh Rs 20,000 to get the pitch excessively watered to make the game a low-scoring match. Nayan Shah was, in turn, working at the behest of a person called Harsh Khandelwal, aka Bunty, from Ajmer in Rajasthan. The bust was widely reported in the local media, and due credit was given to the ACSU.
It was a simple, straightforward operation, but it went off smoothly only on account of the involvement of the SSP and my presence at Kanpur. It proved once again that accurate intelligence gathered by the unit could translate into police action with proper follow-up at senior levels. A point was proven that the BCCI’s ACSU not only does the routine work of imparting anti-corruption training and collecting intelligence but also fights corruption in cricket as a proactive unit.
Excerpted with permission from A Cop in Cricket: Inside the World of the BCCI’s Anti-corruption Unit, Neeraj Kumar, Juggernaut.