DOUBLE-BARRELLED SITTING DUCKS
The recent attacks and subsequent murder of cash van custodians, sheds light on the impending exigency in providing a safe haven to the innocent, whose duty brings them in dangerous proximity to violence, writes Zafar Abbas.
The atmosphere at the Ambedkar Hospital mortuary in Rohini was tense. In a small room, three police officers swiftly completed the official formalities as men and women anxiously waited for their names to be called. Outside the mortuary room, a woman wept endlessly, intermittently wiping her tears with her pallu. The lady was inconsolable as her brother-in-law, Prem Kumar, had been brutally murdered in broad daylight in outer Delhi's Narela on April 26, when assailants attempting to rob his cash van fired multiple shots at Kumar, killing him instantly. 40-year-old Prem Kumar was the security guard of the cash van that was attacked. The custodian of the cash van, Rajnikant, was also killed in the armed heist before the bike-borne robbers fled with 12 lakh rupees.
As the policemen enquired, "Who is with Rajnikant," a young boy and girl in their early-twenties stepped forward. The girl identified herself as Preeti, daughter of Rajnikant, the custodian. Her brother, Kumar Prashant, carrying a bag on his shoulders, stood firmly behind his sister. The cops whispered something to them and the brother-sister duo duly followed him inside the mortuary. They returned with moist eyes and approached their Uncle, to take a seat beside him. An ominous silence filled the air.
"We have donated the eyes of our father to someone in need. He was a visionary. With a meagre income, he spent so much on our education. Let someone see the world with his eyes," Preeti, the 19-year-old daughter of Rajnikant, told Millennium Post.
Rajnikant had been working as a custodian with an SIS company for some years. Originally from Muzaffarpur in Bihar, Rajnikant stayed in a joint family set-up in Chirag Delhi.
"Just a few months back, my brother was awarded the best custodian award by the company. Who knew that some months down the line he would be brutally murdered," apprehended Suryakant, Rajnikant's brother, who also works as a custodian at an SIS company.
The cries of the lady, sitting a few metres away from Rajnikant's family, echoed again. "They shot my father from the back, had they dared to confront him from the front he would have retaliated. My father was a brave man. Had he got the chance, he would have challenged the robbers and not let them flee with the 12 lakh," 16-year-old Abhishek, son of Prem Kumar tells Millennium Post.
Prem Kumar was employed with SIS Prosegur Company, a cash management firm, for five years through a security service outlet. Prem Kumar's brother-in-law, Nirbhay Singh, recalled: "At times, when he heard the news of cash vans being attacked in Delhi, he would say its a dangerous job but there wasn't any choice. He got his gun license in 2002 and, since then, had been employed with various banks as a security guard."
Preeti, on overhearing the conversation, stepped in, "Why did the police not step-up the security of cash vans even after similar robbing attempts had been reported in the Samaypur Badli area just two days back? This tragedy could have been averted." Preeti hints at the incident on April 24, where a custodian and security guard foiled a robbery bid in Shahbad Dairy. The attackers had to return empty-handed.
"On April 24, as I entered the ATM to fill cash, I lowered the shutter. Just then, I heard a gunshot, I peeped out to see that the guard had been shot. Before I could react, they fired at me. The bullet grazed my shoulder, broke my bone and entered my chest. I closed the shutter and sat for three minutes as the attackers tried to open it from outside. Fortunately, I could sustain longer than them and they had to return empty-handed," said Ram Baran Singh, the custodian of the cash van who was attacked in Shahbad Dairy's Metro Vihar.
The double murder in Delhi's Narela and an armed attempt at Shahbad Dairy in a cash van loot have, yet again, highlighted the concern of providing security to the cash van staff, which includes a security guard, custodian and also the driver. With lakhs of rupees being transported daily, have ample measures been taken to provide security to the vulnerable staff? Are the guards, employed with various security services carrying a single or double barrel gun, trained enough to combat an attack by professional criminals carrying sophisticated weapons?
"Criminals who have decided to attack always have a definite edge. They catch the security staff by surprise, giving them little time to react. However, there are a number of precautions that need to be followed. The standard operating procedure needs to be adhered to. There are set standards at what distance the security guard should stand when the cash replenishment is done. GPS should be ensured in each cash van along with a rigorous background check of the employees of the cash van. Especially because, in the past, cases of employees running away with the cash van has also been brought to light," said a senior IPS officer.
Premji, a senior security-in-charge in West Delhi, believes the problem is more deep-rooted. He feels that there are evident lapses in the method the entire procedure is carried out.
"The fault lies in the standard operating procedure (SOP). Comparatively, remote areas are more vulnerable than those which lie in the heart of the city. Areas like Najafgarh, Chawla, Samaypur Badli, Narela and the areas adjoining the Delhi-Haryana border are more prone to attacks than those which are located centrally," he said.
Prem also raises serious concerns by stating, "Usually the bank sends two security guards, depending upon the cash and not the location – this is a major flaw. Suppose the cash is less than 20 lakh, the bank may decide to send a single guard and if the cash amount transferred exceeds 50 lakhs they send two guards with the cash van. Since the security guard and custodian were killed in Narela, the guards at our security service are insisting to go in a pair of two for safety."
Six days after the incident, the Special Cell of Delhi Police arrested five criminals involved in the Narela attack after engaging in a bitter gun battle. Sanjeev Yadav, DCP, Special Cell said that their team received information about the mastermind behind the cash van heist – Bharat Bhushan alias Tony.
"At 5:20 am, his car was intercepted by the police; but, instead of stopping, he tried to run them over. A police officer fired at the tyre which burst and the car came to a jolting stop after hitting the divider. With a bag in one hand and a pistol in another, Tony started running, while simulatenously firing at the police, but the bullets hit the bulletproof vests of the officers. The officers fired back and a bullet hit his leg," said Yadav.
Eight cases of robbery and murders have been solved with their arrests. A day earlier, the police had arrested four of his associates identified as Mahavir Singh (34), Deepak alias Mantar (32), Gurucharan (35) and Vikas Bhardwaj alias Dharmender (24).
"They attacked my father from behind, not giving him a chance to retaliate. Now that they are caught, I want them to be killed in the same way. They should get the most severe punishment for what they did," said Prem Kumar's son Abhishek.
Kumar Prashant, the 22-year-old son of custodian Rajnikant, learned about the arrest of his father's murderers from TV news. "We are yet to come to terms with the his death. Everything went off within a few seconds. We are slightly relieved that the assailants have been caught," Prashant said.
"Nothing can bring back my husband. I just pray that the law of land prevails and speedy justice can be brought to us," said Renu Singh, wife of Rajnikant.
Attacks on cash vans aren't knew, the only alarming aspect now is how the attackers are turning more violent. It appears that they are killing to scare away the bystanders and are in no mood to take any chances, unlike earlier, where even a couple of shots in the air solved their purpose. This makes the job of the security guards and custodians of the cash vans even more precarious. Some stringent measure must be initiated to ensure the security of the cash van staff including security guards, custodians and the driver. They should not become sitting ducks for the criminals to fire upon.