Hyderabad: Had he not become a cop, Rachakonda police commissioner Mahesh Muralidhar Bhagwat would have been working to improve water reserves with the activists like Anna Hazare and Medha Patkar.
Mr Bhagwat is now known for going the extra mile in the fight against women and child trafficking and mentoring students for the civil services exam. He also heads the largest commissionerate in the country.
“I would have continued my work with watershed development that I was doing after completing my civil engineering. It is one subject very close to my heart. I worked with many people including Anna Hazare, Vilasrao Salunkhe of the ‘Pani panchayat’, Mohan Dharia of Vanarai, who started his own form of water conservation,” Mr Bhagwat says, recalling the days before he joined the IPS.
“I also joined Medha Patkar and fasted along with her and others for three days during the Sardar Sarovar Andolan. The first village which was submerged was Manibeli and where we were sitting on fast there. We were fasting for the tribals, telling the government that they should get proper rehabilitation and not get displaced,” says Mr Bhagwat.
“Mostly I was preoccupied with social activities so I could have continued with my civil engineering along with social engineering,” he recalls.
His first preference was always the IAS because he could have done “developmental kind of administration,” he says. “After joining the police I had issues, but I saw many top officers doing something and my experience with rural development helped me in difficult circumstances.”
Mr Bhagwat recalls the Mee Kosam project for Naxals of Adilabad. “It was appreciated by Abdul Kalam and the project was awarded,” he adds, referring to the then President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.
Mr Bhagwat is the first commissioner of the newly-created mammoth commissionerate at Rachakonda. Formed on July 1, 2016, it is the largest in the country, covering 5,091 sq km. It records over 21,000 crimes, mainly property offences and road accidents every year.
“All major roads cross Rachakonda except the Mumbai and Nagpur roads,” he says. It has 44 law and order police stations, seven traffic, three CCS, two women police stations and a cyber crime station.
Even after overseeing all this, Mr Bhagwat still makes time for more. And this sets him apart.
Mr Bhagwat has been mentoring students who are studying for their civils for the past 10 years. He explains: “I did not come from a well-off background and I remember that many mentors helped me. I realised that everyone goes through a struggle and so I help them when they come to the interview.”
“It is a passion for me,” he says. It also relaxes him and makes him feel young. He also loves music and is a member of many groups.
Mr Bhagwat is helped by a few others in mentoring students. Each year they help 90 to 100 students from across the country. Earlier, the students were from TS, AP and Maharashtra, but now they come from across the country.
Earlier, students would come to meet him or talk over the phone. Now they have WhatsApp groups, three for the students doing their prelims and two for those preparing for the interviews.
Once the candidate gets selected, she/ he becomes the mentor for the next batch. “There my role is limited,” says Mr Bhagwat. He gives each candidate an hour a day and is able to spare three to four hours daily. “I take their mock interviews. I go through newspapers and post it in our groups,” he says.
Students come to him by word of mouth. Not all students are poor or lack funds. “This activity is a stress buster because I am talking to young people and I am reading more because of them. It helps me feel young,” says this very gracious cop.
Mr Bhagwat says that to be sensitive towards the general public, the background of the person is very important. “I was more of a social activist before I joined the service. After my graduation in civil engineering I was working with a watershed development project. I worked at Ralegaon Siddhi, the native place of Anna Hazare, where I joined my friends to do some survey work.”
“I worked with Dr Narendra Dhabolkar who was killed in 2013. I was working for rural development. I have seen that part and know the perception of the people regarding the government. Wherever I worked I have tried to remove their negative thoughts about the government. I feel we must create positivity.”
The veteran cop recalls the worst moments in his career. “I have handled many situations, but the worst was when I was South Zone DCP. There was a riot and it was the first day of the then commissioner V. Dinesh Reddy’s tenure. He was briefing us when a reporter told him that there was stone-pelting at Madannapet. That was my area and I immediately left with my team.”
They were wearing helmets and stone guards, and were in the Rakshak vehicle which has the iron grill for protection. “We started convincing people of both the communities and were sending them away. At one point, we saw people standing on top of a two-storey house and a fellow threw a cement flower pot. I was wearing a helmet, but my gunman pulled me away and I was saved that day.” One of the ACPs was injured when a stone hit his head.
“At one place I realised that the forces which were following me were not with me and I was with a team of four. I realised that I was trapped with people from both communities either side. I sent out an SOS and an officer rushed with 10 pesonnel. We charged the groups and then I opened fire in the air to disperse them,” he says.
“I realised that you should always have loyal people who will be with you in any situation. You should not think that because you are a leader people will follow you.”
He says that the police is a disciplined force. “Generally we look up to our superiors and the rank and follow the mission and vision they have. That is the beauty of the uniformed service and nowadays it is more streamlined,” he says. Trust is very hard earned, and there is flexibility in the way the police works.
Mr Bhagwat speaks of a surrendered naxalite in Adilabad when he was the superintendent of police there. “The fellow was considered very dangerous. One day his sister went to the forest to collect some mahua flowers and fell down and was seriously injured. He put her in a vehicle and brought her to Adilabad and called me. We sent her to Nagpur but she died in front of the hospital. The poor fellow broke down. When you work within the legal framework, there is no need to take permission from the boss,” says Mr Bhagwat.
“We should not be asking the boss permission for everything. If permission is required then definitely go to the boss but sometimes when our intervention is required then do help,” he says.
Mr Bhagwat narrates another incident from Adilabad. A boy left his engineering and joined the naxal movement in 1988 and surrendered in 2001.
After giving up, he said he wanted to complete his engineering. “I asked JNTU but they wanted someone to give a guarantee and they wanted something in writing. I gave in writing that I was taking responsibility because he had surrendered in front of the SP because he had faith in the system,” says Mr Bhagwat.
“Now he is a professor in one of the colleges and I met him when I had gone for tree-planting in that college. He came running from far away and I of course recognised him and felt very good. Now, this is within the legal framework for we have to take care of rehabilitation and that is precisely what we did,” says Mr Bhagwat.
Mr Bhagwat says that the support of the family is important. His wife Sunita Bhagwat is the commissioner of Telangana Tourism.
Mr Bhagwat is involved in anti-trafficking activity and has won many an international award for his work. “It started in 2004. I was posted as DCP Cyberabad from Adilabad where I was mostly involved in the anti-extremist operations. I was doing night duty once a fortnight. One day I got an anonymous letter about a dance bar in a resort in Nanakramguda.”
The police raided the place and came across girls from Kolkata and Mumbai. “While talking to them I realised that this was a serious issue. They were staying somewhere else and were transported by school bus to the resort. They were under a contract,” he says. “I had also been introduced to Dr Sunitha Krishnan of Prajwala and knew that this was a serious issue.”
He was then transferred to Nalgonda as superintendent of police where he handled the case of traditional prostitution of the Domara community girls at Yadadri. In January 2017, under Operation Smile, Mr Bhagwat and his team rescued 180 children from Peddakondur in Choutuppal.
In 2017, he got the Trafficking in Person (TIP) Report Heroes Award, from the US state department. The same year Ascent Compliance, a Canada-based agency, did a survey of people working in anti trafficking and they recognised 100 such people world-wide, Mr Bhagwat among them....