Snatchers on the prowl
The streets of NCR today have become a haven for petty criminals who snatch, rob and even assault unsuspecting victims for meagre valuables that then fuel the notorious black market; discuss Abhay Singh, Piyush Ohrie & Rahul Singh
NCR today is a comfortable home for greedy snatchers who linger like ordinary men but are swift in accomplishing their task of disarming valuables from unsuspecting citizens. With the blink of an eye, they can grab your phone and flee the spot on their fast bikes. Not just snatching, people have also been injured and dragged on the streets by thugs.
"By dragging a person on the street, snatchers create fear in the mind of the victim. In some cases, they also show weapons to terrorise their target and instill fear among other commuters," an officer said. The criminals are also employing minors in snatching. Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) has recently urged the Centre to implement stringent laws that make acts of chain and mobile snatching a non-bailable offence.
Deputy Commissioner of Police (Central) Mandeep Singh Randhawa said: "To curb snatching incidents, Delhi Police has taken several steps such as patrolling, launching Parakaram vans along with continuous monitoring of criminals."
In September, a journalist was attacked by snatchers in CR Park and left with multiple serious injuries. Recently, Delhi Police arrested two suspects in the case from Nizamuddin. On September 23, two bike-borne criminals snatched a cellphone from a woman journalist in south-east Delhi's Okhla as she was returning from work. Last year, snatchers fled with a journalist's purse near ITO. The victim was walking on the road when two men on a motorcycle took her mobile phone first and then also snatched her purse before fleeing.
In October, West Delhi Police arrested three criminals involved in more than 100 cases of highway snatching. The accused used to sell the snatched mobile phones locally, from where these items were being sent abroad. In March, a 33-year-old woman was arrested along with her accomplice for allegedly dragging a 53-year-old lady after robbing her purse in west Delhi's Janakpuri.
Deputy Commissioner of Police (Crime) G Ramgopal Naik, said that the thugs are desperate to snatch, no matter the cost. "First they will steal a bike; then they will temper the vehicle's number plate and after that, they will commit the crime. After snatching, they may go out of Delhi and distribute the booty before returning to the city again," said DCP Crime.
On October 6, two brothers were arrested near Sanjay Jheel in east Delhi. The accused revealed that they snatched for thrill. "To live a lavish lifestyle, to buy gifts, drug addiction, alcoholism are a few reasons," a Delhi Police investigator said.
Snatchers are known to target posh areas where people wear more gold ornaments or carry expensive mobile phones. Most snatchers are well aware of the topography of the place where they commit their crime. DCP (New Delhi) Eish Singhal said that they are now deploying their police personnel in plain clothes in vulnerable areas. "The police personnel wears gold jewellery or carries a costly phone. If the snatcher targets our police personnel, the accused will be caught," said DCP New Delhi, adding that their various initiatives have helped in curbing crime.
With a large number of contenders, gangs now tend to be innovative with their modus operandi. For example, the 'Namaste Gang' first greets their victim with folded hands and then snatches their valuables before fleeing the spot. Whereas the 'Thak-Thak Gang' selects a target, follows their car, distracts the victim with a knock and then robs items from the vehicle. Another officer stated that these criminals keep an eye on morning walkers or people wearing t-shirts as their ornaments are visible. "They will be standing at the corner of the street waiting for the right opportunity to strike," an officer said.
Gangs of Gurugram
Gurugram is not only a hub for posh residential condominium societies and multinational offices; it is also a medical hotspot for foreign nationals who flock here for reasonable treatment. Aware of this influx, crooks have been brazen in targeting both locals and foreign nationals.
Worryingly, recent cases have revealed that people who work as salaried professionals, drivers and even interns are being targeted by snatchers. In certain cases, snatchers are killing victims, if the situation so demands. On August 26, in Old DLF colony, a 27-year-old cashier at a private store was shot for carrying over Rs 50,000. Just two days earlier, a truck driver had been shot.
Despite an increase in patrolling, snatching continues to threaten law enforcement. Moreover, most cases, about 60 per cent, remain unsolved. Despite the Haryana government having stringent laws to prevent snatching, it occurs unabated. Importantly, under Sections 379-A and 379-B, snatchings are non-bailable offenses and there have also been cases of conviction where culprits have been sent to five or ten years of imprisonment.
Vehicle thefts also continue to pose trouble in Gurugram. In 2018, on an average, 11 vehicles were stolen daily from the city. Now, taking cognizance of the risks associated with stealing vehicles, burglars are rampantly targeting ancillary items including mirrors, stereos and even tiers. In these cases, robbers steal such items in bulk and then sell them off to car dealers with a good profit margin. Mercedes, BMW, Audi, and Volvo are among the luxury cars that are targeted.
Off late, criminals are also disguising themselves as fake cops positioned in posh areas like Sectors 29, 46 and 40. With the pretext of checking, they are stopping foreign nationals and stealing their dollars, amounting to several lakhs in Indian currency. To gauge how successful this model has been for the crooks, in just one week (October 6 -13), four Iraqi nationals have been duped in separate incidents.
From the heartland
Reports of street crime are also rising in Gautam Buddh Nagar and Ghaziabad, where most incidents are being orchestrated by car-borne and bike-borne assailants in broad daylight, leaving residents perturbed. Robberies, snatching and the like have now become routine despite the presence of special patrolling units in both districts. There are frequent reports of cars being waylaid and their occupants looted. In some cases, the car is taken away too. Though police records showed only a small rise in street crimes this year, residents argue that these numbers are misleading as many incidents go unreported.
In a recent case reported on the night of October 8, a software engineer was allegedly robbed at gunpoint by at least four assailants after being kept hostage inside his SUV for nearly eight hours and beaten while the thugs withdrew around Rs 1.5 lakh from his bank account through multiple transactions. The victim was targeted as he was entering his society in Gaur City, and was stopped and attacked with a knife. They forced him on the backseat and drove for nearly eight hours before dumping him in Bisrakh area. Police are yet to make any breakthrough in the case.
Similarly, on the intervening night of September 19-20, three persons allegedly abducted and robbed the son of a joint secretary in UGC from Sector 52 metro station in Noida. Cops said that the accused persons abducted and kept the victim hostage for nearly four hours in his car before dumping him at a petrol pump in Ghaziabad.
As per reports, there are a few hotspots in Noida and Greater Noida that have been repeatedly witnessing such incidents. These include Sector 51 Kendriya Vihar road, including F block, C block road, Meghdootam Park in Sector 50, Gaur City roundabout, service roads of the Greater Noida West societies and Tilapta Chowk among others. Even the Noida-Greater Noida Expressway and areas like the Mahamaya flyover and Botanical Garden have become notorious for similar loots. Also, in Ghaziabad, police have identified nearly 40 vulnerable spots where street crime rates are steep, like Mohan Nagar junction, Habitat Centre in Indirapuram, etc. Meanwhile, the police have ensured active patrolling in the district and have formed teams trained in curbing street crime.
"We have formed a Preventive Patrolling Force named 'Tejas', comprising of a constable and a sub-inspector on each bike, that will move across the city in search of miscreants. The teams keep a strict watch outside schools, markets, colleges, parks and other vulnerable spots," said Sudhir Kumar Singh, Senior Superintendent of Police in Ghaziabad.
Similarly, in Gautam Buddh Nagar district, police have increased patrolling near industrial areas and factories as robbers tend to target people around their workplace.
Apart from these, there are the auto robbers' gangs that usually target commuters and rob them during the journey. Such gangs are active in both Ghaziabad and Gautam Buddh Nagar districts where a few gang members pose as passengers and rob their target during the journey before dumping the target at a secluded spot. However, though the police have busted the gang after arresting a few members, they remain active in these cities.
Delhi Police data revealed that in the current year (till September) as many as 4,762 cases of snatchings were reported in which 2,686 cases were solved and 3,777 people were arrested for their involvement.
Deputy Commissioner of Police (Crime) Joy Tirkey told Millennium Post that during investigation it was found that snatchers are focussing on mobile phones. "People either talk on the phone or hold it in their hand. The snatchers approach their target and then snatch the phone. The stolen mobile phones are later sold," he said.
In a crime review meeting at Delhi Police Headquarters, the top brass of Delhi Police reviewed the work of 165 anti-snatching teams. It was found that more than 390 snatched mobile phones were recovered from six districts, clearly indicating the trend.
According to official data from Gurugram, 2018 witnessed 5,325 cases of mobile theft. In 2019, till October, more than 3,000 mobile phones that have been stolen in the city. Moreover, in 2018, 4,318 vehicle thefts were registered – a 5 per cent increase from 2017 when 4,104 vehicles had been stolen. Further, in just six months, there have been 42 cases of foreign nationals being cheated.