A tip off from the Anti Gangster Squad of the Central Crime Branch led to a swiftly rustled up police team gatecrashing a birthday party of a dreaded henchman Binu Pappachan in filmy style. They carried return gifts – service revolvers and handcuffs. The invitees were considered the backbone of the Chennai ‘under world’. Seventy four rowdies were overpowered and arrested in a crackdown that hit the headlines last month. Overseeing the operation was the Chennai West Zone Joint Commissioner of Police. Although the kingpin and a handful of his acolytes gave the cops the slip, sustained pressure from Santosh Kumar and his team forced Binu and company to surrender in a few days.
In a sixteen year career, that has seen an impressive variety of action packed postings, this 2002 IPS officer is justifiably nonchalant about his professional milestones. The son of a ’74 batch Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer – C.R.Bunkar, who retired as the Commissioner of Customs, Guntur, and homemaker Vidya Bunkar, Santosh’s early life had probably prepared him for the grind of transfers a career in the Civil Services entails. As his father got posted in different States, a young Santosh saw 6 different schools across Maharashtra, Hyderabad, Bhubaneswar and Allahabad. The charm of the uniform began at home, evident from his kindergarten years, when his parents had an authentic police uniform specially tailored for him, “not the shabby ones kids would wear at Fancy Dress competitions”. A History Honours Degree at St.Stephen’s College, followed by a Masters in the same subject from the University of Delhi and three hard cracks at the Civil Services Exam, catapulted him into the IPS.
It’s not often that you come across a 41 year old officer whose CV is replete with stints as Superintendent of Police in 4 districts and 2 special units, Aide-De-Camp to the Governor, Deputy Commissioner of Police of 4 ranges, including Traffic and Crime, as well as Headquarters and Joint Commissioner of Police of a large zone. Taking on challenges with dexterity has been the hallmark of his career.
Santosh’s first brush with policing began as Additional Superintendent of Police (ASP) – Tenkasi, where he oversaw the conduct of the Kumbhabhishekham “after a gap of almost a century.” There was a “crowd of about 10 lakh people.” As ASP – Alangulam, he cracked the murder of former DMK Law Minister Alladi Aruna, “with the arrest of mercenaries, some even from Gujarat.” Another feather was his posting as Superintendent of Police of the Security Branch in Chennai. This is an assignment normally given to senior SP s. “I was in charge not just of VVIP visits but also the Chief Minister’s security. During my tenure, two former US Presidents – Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton visited Tamil Nadu.”
District postings are always fraught with unique problems. If it was communal issues in Kanyakumari, natural disasters like a cyclone in Nagapattinam stared him in the face. A no nonsense approach to policing ensured that he was picked twice by the Election Commission to man sensitive posts – like Deputy Commissioner of Police – Crime, Madurai, during a by-election in 2007 and SP of Namakkal during the Lok Sabha poll in 2014.
Santosh’s assignments in Chennai were marked by new hurdles in store. The Metro Rail construction had commenced when he was posted as the Deputy Commissioner of Police (Traffic) West Chennai. “We had to implement traffic changes like the One Way that was on for about 4 years.” In the Chennai Police Headquarters, as the Deputy Commissioner, the task of conducting exams for the recruitment of Sub Inspectors of Police landed in his lap. “By roping in DSPs, Inspectors & Sub Inspectors from the rest of Tamil Nadu, I managed to hold these exams for 35,000 candidates across 27 centres.”
The 2015 Chennai Floods followed by the Mahamaham in 2016, coincided with his posting at the Chennai Commado Force Headquarters. “During the floods, I stayed at the office in Boat Club Road and worked flat out for many days without going to my residence at the SAF Games Quarters.” Then came the festival at Kumbakonnam where devotees take that holy dip in the Mahamaham tank every 12 years. Although his Commando Force innings was quite a cameo, lasting just 4 months, he earned two Commendation Certificates from the Director General of Police. “That was quite a badge of honour.” As the Joint Commissioner of Police, West Zone, Santosh was involved in the arrangements for the massive funeral procession for late Chief Minister Ms. Jayalalithaa, which was incredibly disciplined and a fitting tribute to the charismatic leader.
A voracious reader of fiction and non fiction and a fan of Ghazals and Jagjit Singh, whose autographed photo and albums are his “prized possessions”, Santosh is also quite the traveller. “I’ve travelled throughout India, except Nagaland, Himachal and Jammu & Kashmir.” As this piece is being written, he is packing his bags again. This time it’s official. To take charge as the Deputy Inspector General of Police – Villupuram, after completing two eventful years in Chennai as the Joint Commissioner. Is he sad to leave the city? “I’m an outsider. It makes no difference to me where I am posted.” I dare say, it makes a difference to the range!
(Sanjay Pinto is an Advocate at the Madras High Court, a Columnist, Author, TV Political Commentator, Public Speaking Mentor & Former Resident Editor – NDTV 24×7)