In the City’s administration, the agency that has made the most difference on the ground is the Police. The Traffic Police has been pro-active in pointing out, following up on, and ensuring various actions needed by multiple agencies, for better traffic flow; it has been strict in enforcing driving rules, including campaigns against drunk driving; and it has positively taken on board volunteers for road safety and management, as and when needed.
Now, the crime branch too have made siginificant progress, in ensuring there will be a lower crime rate, in a key area.
While Gurgaon has not seen the violent crimes and kidnappings of yore, for some time, there has been a stready increase in multiple other crimes over the past many months – molesting of women; snatchings of purses and jewellery and cash; and the stealing of vehicles.
There has been some clear action taken for women safety, especially around the MG Road area. And some new recommendations are currently being discussed. Snatchings are more difficult, and are also not undertaken by ‘gangs’ only. This challenge remains.
What had alarmingly escalated was the number of car and bike thefts. The Special Task Force of the Gurgaon Police have done themselves proud by apprehending various culprits quickly, and in the process breaking up various gangs – many of them inter-state. This is not about brute force. It shows the finer side of the City Police; a finer side of some dedicated men who work day and night to make our City safer.
Here is the story.
Gurgaon, the land of the rich and wealthy, is also the land of easy pickings. At least for car lifters. According to Gurgaon Police’s data, around eight cars are stolen or taken at gun-point everyday. And the saying that ‘bigger is better’ has been adopted whole-heartedly by these car-jackers. Fortunately, the scary trend, of not finding your big sedan where you parked it at night, may be at an end. With the major arrest of two vehicle ‘recievers’ and forgers, and the crack-down on car-jacking gangs, the City’s police may well pat themselves on the back for a job well done.
The trend of buying big, flashy cars started off in Punjab, and then ‘infected’ its cousin Haryana. After the looting of multi-crore cars in Punjab, Haryana—and especially Gurgaon—woke up to the threat. Quite recently, the Punjab Police had cracked a car-jackers’ gang, and recovered over 51 luxury cars – which the gang were in the process of selling. The cars were valued between Rs. 5 lakh and Rs. 4 crores, and stolen from Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat and Karnataka.
Over the past few months, the Gurgaon Police has broken car theft gangs with metronomic regularity. And with each case, the suspects/perpetrators have grown more desperate, going to the extent of even shooting at the pursuing policemen.
Special Task Force
Hidden away in a small, unmarked building in Sector-10 is the Special Task Force of the City Police, called Criminal Investigation Agency (CIA)-IV. Heading a tight-knit 20-member unit is Inspector Sanjeev Balhara. His group has been single-handedly responsible for putting out of action several of the car-jacking gangs terrorising the City. “Our role is not limited to solving car cases. We take on anything that the thana police is unable to crack, or if something is out of their jurisdiction; or if a particular crime spree is to be stopped. We were told to take urgent action on the rising car theft cases, and we did crack several of the major gangs,” he says.
Where are the car thieves coming from? It seems from the villages, and migrant labour, of North India. “Please remember that these people are not uneducated. Rather, they are young, and have an education of at least ClassX to Class XII,” Balhara says. “The bike-lifter gang we caught had members who were in college. Some of them are intelligent enough to scope out their targets, make a plan of attack, and execute decisions on the fly.” Some of them are even well-off to sustain a middle-class lifestyle, but the lure of better things drives them to steal vehicles.
How do they get the expertise to steal cars and bikes, especially high-end ones? “It’s ridiculously easy to take someone’s car, if you know how to disable the security system,” says a police officer who was tasked to bring down the car thefts. “One of the most popular methods is to tilt the car up. The security system assumes the car is being towed, and disables the auto-lock. Then you disconnect the power source from the security system, and pick the lock at your leisure. The older cars (without security systems) are even easier. You just need to take out the window’s beading, then stick a ruler inside till the lock lever pops open. In bikes, making a key takes five minutes. Another old-fashioned method is using a worn-out key, which takes lesser time in older cars and bikes.”
Balhara says, “Most of the criminals we catch have spent time in the lock-up. These are young people who have some education, but not enough to guarantee a job that can sustain a family. When they come here and see the fast life for themselves, taking a ‘shortcut’ does not seem immoral. “When they spend time in jail, they pick up new tricks of the trade, and get new contacts. After they get out—in three to six months—they have the skill-set to pull off major heists and car-thefts.”
Defusing Security Tech
All the modern technology and security systems seem to fail in front of these audacious car thieves. As one police officer puts it, “The experienced car-jackers know which neighbourhood has good cars, and when a new car has been added to its parking lot. If a new car has not been installed with a decent security system and a GPS tracker, you can bet your money that it will be stolen within a month.” And if the car thieves are unable to crack the security system on the spot? “There have been cases where they just tow the car away, so that they can disable the car security at their leisure. There is nothing that the car thieves won’t do, or a line which they won’t cross.”
Deputy Commissioner of Police (East) Maheswar Dayal says, “Yes, there were a couple of gangs which were desperate enough to take shots at the police. But they were organised gangs, whom we have taken down.” He related that the gang of two car-thieves, Mukesh and Satish, which the Gurgaon Police broke on May 30, had the audacity to ask their customers which cars they wanted – and in which colour. Then, they contacted the car-jackers on their list, and ‘placed their orders’. Satish, according to the police, was the mastermind, who took care of—forged—the documents. Between Satish and Mukesh, the gang had cleared more than 250 cars off the streets of the City.
Which cars are the most preferred ones? “Mahindra Bolero, Tavera and other off-road capable vehicles are the most sought-after. Then, there are the luxury vehicles. In this segment, Audi takes the top spot, besides BMWs.”
All these cars have two destinations – if not for the City. For the Boleros, Taveras, Scorpios, Safaris and other off-roaders, Bihar and Jharkhand have the largest number of buyers. “These car-jackers have such good networks that they can get forged documents, which will pass almost every visible examination. Only a database check would reveal that these cars have fake registration,” say officials. And the better class of vehicles are taken to Uttar Pradesh and other nearby states, says DCP Maheshwar Dayal. Each of these cars get a perfect set of documents, and are even modified by local ‘chop-shops’, which alter the cars’ appearance before sending them off to UP and Rajasthan.
But now, with the arrest of the ‘receivers’, and the breaking apart of major gangs, DCP Dayal is confident that the streak of cars getting stolen will stop. Some of the gangs will always operate, but the organised inter-state gangs, which have been terrorising the City till now, have hopefully come to a halt.
Just recently, the Gurgaon Police made the biggest raid ever, when it cracked down on a bike-lifters’ gang. They recovered 65 motorcycles on the spot, and reckon the total lifting to be several times the current haul. The members of the gang were from Delhi, and villages near Gurgaon – such as Jhajjar, Fazilpur and Rewari. Balhara says that none of the apprehended were above 22-23 years of age, and were college students. “Their motivation to steal bikes was to have a good time with their girlfriends. They went overboard, and as with all inexperienced culprits, left enough clues to be caught by us.”
The sad fact is that most of the gang-members are very young people. A policeman in Sector 9 says, “I have seen, and stopped, kids of Class VIII and IX stealing bikes and Honda Activas. What can one do? They can’t be punished, so I let them off with a reprimand. If I recognise the person to be a repeat offender, I call in the parents as well as the victim, in front of the kid, to shame him into not doing such activities.”
Some time ago, this officer came across a series of bike thefts. The department had a stroke of luck when a woman, who was a victim of chain-snatching, recalled the number of the bike the perpetrators were riding. “It was a UP number, with everything written in a long, low script. We spread the word amongst our informers to find out if men riding such a bike had been seen. Luckily, an auto-mechanic called us saying that two youth came to his shop on a bike matching the description. When the police nabbed them, they were surprised to find that the perpetrators were young men who worked in a reputed BPO in Udyog Vihar. “To our consternation, they said that they robbed and stole bikes for fun in their break time. When the bike’s petrol ran out, they dumped it and returned to office in time for their work!”
It is unwritten, but true, that the bigger car-theft gangs have operated in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Bihar. ‘Employees’ or experienced car-thieves, were shifted to newer hunting grounds such as Gurgaon. It is fortunate that we caught them, says a police official. And when the gangs have been taken down, the forgers and the chop-shops have disappeared too, opines DCP Dayal. “But we are on their trail, and they will be brought to justice soon.” The bigger picture is that the unholy spurt of cars getting stolen left, right and centre will see a grateful pause.” Of course, this is not to say that vehicle thefts have come to a stop. “Jo ikke-dukke Splendor wale chor hain, unhen bhi pakad lenge,” remarks a policeman.
A volunteer Road Safety Officer, Mohit Saxena, has seen his share of criminals when he was working at an NGO reforming criminals. “It is a vicious circle. The youth have nowhere to go once they are inside the gang. The flashy life is like a drug just an inch away from the grasp of these youth . They don’t have the time or the money to spend on education—especially higher education—and so are bereft of well-paying jobs. So they take up this stealing and thievery as a ‘part-time’ job. When they are sent to jail, they pick up the ‘serious skills’. Rather than help in reforming them, the time at the penitentiary provides them with the tools of the trade.” Is there an alternative? “None, as far as I can see. The reformation has to come from within. Only then can we help,” he says.