The country’s well-known “encounter specialist” Daya Nayak was suspended on Thursday after the Mumbai police officer declined to join his new posting at Nagpur fearing his family’s safety.
Best known for gunning down more than 80 Mumbai underworld gangsters in the 1990s, the officer has courted controversy several times in the past — especially when he was under scrutiny for allegedly amassing wealth disproportionate to his income.
Like millions of people from rural India, Nayak’s journey began after finishing class 7 from a Kannada-medium school in his village and found himself in “big old Bombay” in 1979.
More than three decades down the road, the youngest son of Badda and Radha Nayak from a Karnataka village is one of Mumbai police’s most feared, celebrated and controversial officers.
The portico of a hotel, where worked after landing in Mumbai, was his home and often he would sit under a streetlight with a book. His persistence paid as he completed his class 12 from a Goregaon school and his graduation from a college in Andheri.
Working as a plumber’s apprentice after college, he met some officers from the narcotics department — a chance meeting that sowed the seeds of a life in uniform.
In 1995, he was posted at Juhu as a sub-inspector after completing training at the police academy.
From then on, Nayak’s rise to fame was quick, chiefly helped by Mumbai’s hyper-active underworld of the 90s. In December 1996, Nayak made his first kill — two Chotta Rajan gangsters at Juhu. The tally would reach 83 in the years to follow.
A coffee shop at Lokhandwala in Andheri (West) used to be his favourite hangout to meet journalists. The stocky officer in a tight shirt or a T-shirt would walk in and pull two weapons out — a .38 revolver and a 9mm pistol. He would sit on a chair from where the entire shop and people passing by on the road outside were visible. Fear, after all, was catching up on this fearless officer.
Nayak’s charm waned after a probe was ordered against him for disproportionate assets in January 2002. He had built a school in his native village, Yennehole, and named it after his mother.
But what initiated the probe was the inauguration ceremony where some of the country’s biggest celebrities were present — painter MF Husain, actors Amitabh Bachchan, Suniel Shetty and Aftab Shivdasani, besides then Karnataka education minister H Vishwanath.
The controversy faded after then police commissioner MN Singh endorsed Nayak as one of the best officers in the force.
It flared up again when a MCOCA court in 2004 asked the anti-corruption branch (ACB) to investigate his unaccounted wealth.
Raids at six places, including two in Bangalore, set tongues wagging. Nayak allegedly held a fleet of luxury buses operating from an Andheri office and another set at Karkala town in Karnataka.
The ACB arrested him and soon Nayak’s alleged dirty laundry came out in the open — a penthouse in Malad, a flat worth R21 lakh gifted to his brother Keshav in Kandivali, Kancha bar and restaurant in Goregaon, a flat in Powai and Escape pub in Andheri.
The allegations couldn’t be proven and Nayak was reinstated in 2012 as additional commissioner of police (West) control room.
He maintained a low profile, but continued to meet journalists. The only change was the venue, a gymnasium in Andheri West which he regularly visited to sate his thirst for fitness.
In 2014, when he was transferred to Nagpur, he refused. Nayak said he would be singled out and killed along with his family as the government had withdrawn the security cover.