June 12, 2011

life in journalism: (part 1) earlier pakistani journalist, now indian journalist, murdered

The masterminds behind the recent murders of Bombay-based Indian journalist, J. Dey, the investigations editor for Mid-day newspaper, and Islamabad-based journalist, Syed Saleem Shahzad, the Pakistan bureau chief for Asia Times Online, will sooner or later be exposed.

A significant way to do justice to journalists murdered in the line of duty is to read most of their stories. For their murderers would be someone who stood exposed by their stories.

In this post, I am presenting below J. Dey's recent story on oil mafia in Bombay & Maharastra. In other subsequent posts, I will be presenting other stories written by Dey and Shahzad.

I humbly pray before our universal energy to guide the departed souls of Dey and Shahzad, and to soothe the severe pain their family members and loved ones would be going through. After Dey's recent story on oil mafia below, I present the reactions of some of his colleagues to his tragic death.

Sea-soned diesel kingpin arrested
By: J Dey           Date:  2011-05-16           Place: Mumbai

As fuel prices soared yet again, an oil kingpin was nabbed with 50,000 litres of smuggled diesel; cops say the Rs 10,000 crore racket runs deep -- from international mariners to local politicians

Less than 24 hours after the news of hike in fuel prices -- this time by a hefty Rs 5 -- formed a lump in your throat, police uncovered a sinister diesel smuggling syndicate off the city's shores. In the wee hours of Sunday, a team led by Senior Inspector Rakesh Sharma of the Special Branch, nabbed a diesel kingpin who goes by the nom de guerre of Bada Noora.
Noora was returning with his spoils of the night, from the deep seas some 100 miles off the city's shores, where stolen diesel exchanges hands and is smuggled into the metropolis. No sooner had the kingpin landed the consignment of more than 50,000 litres of the fuel valued around Rs 1 crore in his barge, than the sleuths impounded it. The development indicates that the seas around the city are fast becoming a cesspool for diesel smuggling, or what is called pani ka kaam in gangland vernacular, as it is smuggled in via sea routes.
Logistical chain
A number of agents are involved in this underground market, not the least of which are captains and officials of foreign-flagged ships, police sources detailed. These compromised international mariners, ravenous to make a fast buck, often go on an austerity drive at sea by switching off some of the auxiliary engines, air conditioners and other fuel-consuming equipment on board the vessel, to save on the fuel.

The saved quantity is then sold to clandestine operators from the city. The operators get it from the ship's captain for as low as Rs 12 per litre. The oil mafiosi sail on their transporting freights to meet the tainted mariners some 100 miles off the city's coast. The diesel is offloaded on their vessels in tanks -- the way it was on Noora's barge -- and snuck in to the city. The consignment thus smuggled in is sold in the city at a throwaway Rs 18 per litre.

Parallel economy
The business of bootlegged diesel, which is sometimes mixed with naphta and kerosene, is estimated to be around Rs 10,000 crore for the mafia annually. Moreover, there have been pointers that it is taking place with the connivance of some senior politicians and policemen, a senior police officer admitted on the condition of anonymity.

Investigations by this newspaper revealed that that there are dozens of local gangs, most of them affiliated to Dawood's right-hand-man Chhota Shakeel, which provide the oil and diesel mafia with the necessary man and muscle power. In return, they receive protection from local politicians, which was a major giveaway pointing to their complicity.

The purloined fuel is sold to dozens of tug owners and sand mafia operators in and around the city, confirmed senior inspector Sharma. A large number of fishermen and dubious petrol pump owners also thrive on the smuggled diesel to carry out their daily business, after buying it at Rs 18 per litre. Investigations indicate that transactions of more than 500 tonnes takes place almost every alternate day. The volume of the business is around Rs 180 crore for a two-month-season. The diesel smuggling business also perpetuates and enables the hawala business in the city, mainly controlled by Dawood's henchmen. Payments are made to the foreign captains and other officials in on the illegal trade in dollars.

Security threat
Other than the parallel economy the mafia is running, which puts its oar in the demand and supply of fuel in the white market, these operations also pose a serious threat from a national security perspective, as these vessels can as easily and unsuspectingly be used to smuggle arms and ammunition into the city. Cops say that Noora's arrest is just the surface of the smuggling world that they have scratched. They have launched a hunt to nab Bada Noora's key associate Akbar.

Some of the other key players in the dock areas are Chhota Noora, Rafiq, Aziz, Aziz Battiwala, Chand, Munna Maldar, Santosh, Sadiq and DK Bhai. A major player, whose real identity and role investigators have not yet revealed, is someone who goes by the alias of Pandit.

Change of guard
Initial investigations have indicated that Bada Noora has been appointed as a replacement for slain oil kingpin Chand Madar, shot dead by his gangland rivals outside his Ballard Pier office last year. The role of the underworld, the links with Dawood, and the extent to and manner in which the nexus spreads are all part of the ongoing investigations, Sharma said.

What should verily raise alarm is the fact, confirmed by the police, that a large number of foreign-flagged ships are now diverting their vessels close to Mumbai to sell surplus diesel to the mafia and make quick money. This information came to light during the questioning of Bada Noora, said Sharma. In fact, feverish illegitimate activity is expected in the seas surrounding Mumbai in the coming days. The mafia will try to stock up on as much diesel as they can because of the imminent monsoon season, which makes the seas turbulent to venture into and the business dicey.

Reactions from Dey's colleagues in Mid-Day:


Vinod Kumar Menon,

Chief Reporter

J Dey was an unassuming colleague whose fame came from his meticulously researched crime stories. Though few knew of his passion for the environment; he was also an animal-lover. Dey was very particular about his diet, which included non-oily food and kadak, sugarless chai. I recall a chat with Dey in our office canteen. He had carefully removed the foil that contained neatly folded chapattis. "My mother packed it for me," he said, looking at the chapatti, "It is a declaration of a mother's love; don't ever tell your ma you do not want to carry her dabba ”  it'll hurt her because all her love goes into making it for you and that's why it tastes so good."

Well-connected and trusted among his sources, police officers and colleagues, Dey was credited with exposes that others in the field would die for. Yet, he always keep himself busy with work. He was pretty reluctant to get himself photographed. He shied away from taking centrestage for his big crime breaking stories. A strapping 6'1", he could be mistaken for a spy at work. He never spoke of his achievements and believed in hard work.

Even at 56, he preferred to be amid his sources, at the crime scene, where he would report on-the-spot reactions.

He was a mentor and guide to young, aspiring crime journalists; they addressed him as 'Sir'. It is hard to believe that 'Sir' will not be around. The people who killed him may have succeeded, but Dey is with us. The principles he stood for, for which he fought for, will remain with us forever. A gun cannot kill that indomitable spirit.

Hemal Ashar,

Assistant Editor

The picture that went with his byline when he wrote a column for this paper, was that of a cap covering a face. Like that picture, J Dey worked in the shadowy world of crime, where most is hidden and surreptitious is a byword.

He sat only a few desks away from me in office, his head above the cubicle enclosure, attesting to his tall stature, as he typed out stories about the city's dark and deadly. It takes a man dedicated to his work to slice open the ugly underbelly of Mumbai with the precision of a surgeon. Mumbai's map is dotted by the underworld. From 'addas' to buildings where shootouts have taken place, this is all about a big city pockmarked by dons, gang wars, bloodlust and revenge.

Dey knew this world only too well. So well in fact, that he had compiled a lexicon of crime lingo in a book called Khallas which gave readers the A to Z of gangster talk ” morbidly fascinating gobbledygook to the layperson but so familiar to him. 

I would often go up to J Dey's desk and ask him ” 'Dey, could you do an in-depth article for the centrespread pages (a daily double page feature) on something about the current crime scenario?' He would answer: "Yes, when do you want it?" Sure enough, it would be in my email inbox, a few days later, sinister and compelling all at once.

Now, I remember those pieces vividly. There was one about smuggling activity on the high seas. I headlined it: Once Upon A Crime in Mumbai; an obvious twist on Ekta Kapoor's movie about the underworld. Dey had smiled broadly when he saw the headline. The other was a piece about the transformation of Mumbai's red light area, a look at how the demographics were changing at Kamathipura.

Yet, Dey was more than a crime reporter. He was a football fan. I think back now on how keenly he had watched the football World Cup 2010, sitting on a bean bag opposite the TV in office, laughing and debating the merits of a player or the chances of a team with colleagues. Just two days ago, Dey, a colleague, and I were sitting in the MiDDAY canteen, drinking tea and discussing holiday destinations. Dey suggested Bhutan, a place still relatively untouched by modernity, whose serenity and silence were in direct contrast to the hustle of Mumbai.

He passed by my desk post that discussion, on the way to his workplace and bent over to look at a plastic packet near the computer. They were hard-boiled sweets. "Oh," he remarked as he grinned and looked more closely. "I don't like sweets," he said lightly as he moved on to where he sat. Now, I wish I had something salty in that packet that day.

It has just been a few hours post the news of his death, and phones are trilling shrilly. They are calls from TV reporters wanting to get a few 'bytes' for their news channels about J Dey, ironically responsible for breaking news ” (called scoops in journalistic parlance) ”  who has today become the subject of breaking news himself.
An  emptiness wraps itself like a shroud in this newsroom, usually loud with clicking keyboards and phone interviews as journalists rush to complete their stories for the Sunday MiDDAY edition.

Early in my career, a senior journalist would remark jocularly as he saw frazzled reporters scramble to file in their stories as the clock ticked away, 'All journalists die not from heart attacks or cancer but deadline pressure'.

Not all of them. Some die from bullets.

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