His first task at the NIA was to identify the perpetrators of 26/11.
New Delhi: Sanjeev Kumar Singh, 1987 batch Madhya Pradesh cadre Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, passed away at the Medanta hospital on Friday night after fighting a tough but unsuccessful battle with dengue. Singh, who hailed from Samastipur, Bihar, was the first Inspector General (Investigation) of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and is credited with shaping the way the agency has evolved into India’s finest and among the world’s premier anti-terror organisations. His first task at the NIA—which he joined the day it started working in January 2009—was to identify the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai attack. NIA at the time used to function from a makeshift office at a mall in the Jasola area of Delhi.
In the first instance of its kind, the NIA led by Singh named two Pakistani serving army officers in its charge-sheet filed in December 2011 for their involvement in the Mumbai attack. Singh, for the first time, used email tracking and advanced software to establish a trail that led to identification of the serving Pakistani army officers and their role in the terror attack in India. Singh also took the assistance of email service provider Hotmail and Microsoft and United States Department of Justice to crack the case, which was something that was never done before. The comprehensive charge-sheet in the case, which contained minute details, that was compiled by Singh and his team, is regarded as one of the finest pieces of investigative document filed in any terror case. He laid down the ground rules of modern investigation techniques, including cyber tracking, which NIA has so successfully mastered now.
The 1960 born Singh, in September 2011, while going to his office in Delhi, saw a girl falling into a ditch and drowning. He immediately jumped out of his car and saved the girl. Once when a DSP rank officer, who urgently needed the call details of a suspected terrorist, was being stonewalled by a private telecom provider, Singh called the GM of that telecom company and politely “explained” to him the urgency. The records were furnished within hours. The soft-spoken Singh never exceeded his professional boundaries, but he knew how to get work done, mostly by using his persuasive skills. He was a man loved by his juniors as he would joke with them, mostly with a straight face. He was known for going out of his way to help the helpless, often belonging to the economically weaker sections, who would land at his office and home seeking his assistance.
When he was the SP of Bhopal during 1996-97, he publicly thrashed the son of a sitting powerful state minister after he caught him passing lewd comments at girls. Singh did this despite being aware that the boy’s father was a sitting minister.
Singh also investigated the high-profile October 2013 Gandhi Maidan bombing at Patna which happened even as Narendra Modi was giving his speech. He also cracked the July 2013 bombing at Bodh Gaya. He led the investigation in the Jheeram Ghati massacre of May 2013 where more than 25 Congress leaders and workers were killed by the Naxals. Though Singh was put under pressure to mould his investigation to suit a particular narrative, he stood by the facts on the ground and refused to name anyone who was not involved. Similarly, he was also asked, before May 2014, to follow a particular line of investigation, which the political dispensation of the time wanted; he again refused as the facts that the NIA had found did not conform to what the political party was stating.
Singh was also the chief investigator of the January 2016 Pathankot terror attack and the October 2014 Burdwan blast.
Despite having a stellar record, the longest serving member of the NIA, Singh on 18 August 2016, within 59 days of being given a one-year extension, was prematurely repatriated to his home cadre. The reason for this sudden decision, according to NIA sources, was the highly followed press conference that he did on 10 August at the NIA headquarters making public the audio-video confessional statement of Pakistani Lashkar-e-Tayyaba terrorist Bahadur Ali. The media coverage that he got ruffled delicate and insecure feathers of top officials and despite the then Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi requesting for the continuance of this “capable” officer, Singh was asked to go back. Despite having personal relations with individuals who could have easily stopped this seemingly unjustifiable act, Singh chose to follow the orders, as he always did.
In June 2018, Singh, responding to PM Modi’s call for “Fit India”, tweeted multiple videos of him doing strenuous physical exercise while stating, “The main reason for me tweeting these videos was to motivate the young officers and Indians to be fit. I’m 58 plus and if I can do it, you can do it too. Don’t doubt yourself and take the first step.”
After serving some time in Madhya Pradesh, Singh, an avid reader who always wanted to stay amidst action rather than behind the desk as many at his age prefer, was appointed as ADG, BSF in 2018 where he served till his superannuation in February 2020. Just a few months ago, in July, he had joined the National Security Council Secretariat where he was expected to play an important role in devising policies related to India’s strategic needs.
The path that Singh led down at NIA for officers to follow and the relationship that he shared with his junior officers was evident from the emotional testimonies shared by his former colleagues including G.P. Singh (ADG, Assam) and Vikas Vaibhav (DIG, Bihar), both of whom worked with Singh at NIA at different point of the seven years that Singh spent at there.
With the loss of Singh, who leaves behind his wife and two sons, India’s security apparatus has lost a man who shaped India’s terror investigation mechanism and an individual who had plans to do much more.