Dhoble's war on Mumbai nightlife

He has redefined 'social service', wielding his hockey stick to devastating effect. But while he has put the fear of the devil in Mumbai's bar owners, his strident morality-reflected in comments after a June 6 raid on Masala Curry restaurant in Oshiwara that free entry for women and cover charges for men at pubs, bars and nightclubs is indicative of immoral activities-has split Mumbaikars into two camps: Those who endorse his bar-busting ways and those who consider him the ultimate party pooper. Meet Vasant Dhoble, 56, assistant commissioner of police (ACP) and head of Mumbai Police's social service branch.

Better known for his spate of raids on bars on the suspicion that they run "prostitution rackets", Dhoble has rescued 95 girls from the clutches of prostitution since he took charge in March 2011. In February this year, he arranged a mass wedding of six bar girls, spending Rs 50,000 from his pocket. "Most bar girls come from rural areas. They are pushed into the trade by pimps who draw them to the city by promising jobs or prospective matches. I am trying to give these girls a new lease of life," he says.

Dhoble's biggest strike to-date was in January this year at a bar on Sahar Road in Andheri. He arrived past midnight only to find no girls present there. Dhoble went into the kitchen, discovering a narrow passage leading to a 2x2 sq ft door. He couldn't break in but slid his cellphone under the door and took pictures. They revealed tell-tale evidence: Ten girls, all in their 20s, standing in a well-lit room-five of them in shimmery saris, two in mini-skirts and three in jeans and tops. Dhoble called the local police and forced the bar owner to open the door to the secret room. The girls are now at a women's reform home in Chembur.

Bar owners in Mumbai might not know who Maharashtra's director-general of police is, but after Dhoble's raids on 78 bars in a little over a year, they have made sure the acp's photo has been circulated to all staffers, just in case he comes calling. Dhoble is aware of this cat-and-mouse game. He dodges private detectives hired by bar owners by taking off on a different route, while his team would reach the 'target' and conduct the raid.

Dhoble was Commissioner Arup Patnaik's first choice to lead the social service branch despite being dismissed for the alleged custodial death of a thief, Abdul Gaffer Khan, in 1994-though he was reinstated in 1996 after acquittal by the Bombay High Court. But his ruthless style of functioning may have just gone a bit too far. On June 1, he allegedly thrashed the manager of a juice centre at Vile-Parle with a hockey stick because more people than permitted had gathered there. On June 6, he detained two cousins, Anamika Rao and Bindiya Handa, who were attending a birthday party at Masala Curry, on suspicion of being involved in a prostitution racket. The Bombay High Court has refused to release them till the magistrate's inquiry into the charges against them is over. The cousins, lodged in the Chembur women's reform home, have dragged Dhoble to court for illegal detention and defamation.

That may not be enough to deter Maximum City's night raider.