New Delhi, April 29 (IANS) They roam the highways around Delhi late at night, offering lifts to vulnerable people in the garb of taxi drivers and then robbing them inside the moving car or hijacking a shiny new truck; sometimes even killing those who resist. With a spurt in highway robberies, these gangs are giving the police sleepless nights.
In many cases, the passengers are either stranded or tired of waiting for public transport, which is hard to find on highways, and tend to take lifts from strangers. This is one of the major reasons behind the surge, police say.
"The cases have increased in the last few months," a senior police officer told IANS.
According to another police officer, a gang arrested in February confessed it operated on the highways around Delhi and would target passengers waiting at bus stops.
The police said that the accused would befriend lone passengers at bus stops and then offer them a lift.
"They would overpower the passenger and rob him of cash, jewellery and ATM card," police said.
The mastermind of the gang, Dev Dutt alias Suraj Goswami, 27, also told police that he had robbed a passenger Feb 15 along with his gang and had then thrown the victim out of a moving car in Wazirabad in north Delhi.
Perhaps the murder of a retired Indian Air Force (IAF) officer at the hands of such a gang is one of the most horrific testaments to their cruelty.
In January 2012, a gang of four highway robbers was apprehended in the capital for the killing.
The victim, Surender Singh, 48, was offered a lift by the accused on the intervening night of January 14/15 from Mukundpur. On the way, the victim was thrice stabbed in the neck when he resisted a robbery and his body was dumped near Budhpur drain in the Swaroop Nagar area of west Delhi.
The gang-members fled after robbing the victim of two mobile phones a laptop and Rs.23,000 in cash. However, all the four accused were arrested within two weeks.
During interrogation, they revealed that after hiring cars from Delhi and the NCR area to use it as a taxi they would target vulnerable people coming from other states at Karnal bypass, Dhaula Kuan, ISBT Anand Vihar and Mehrauli-Badarpur Road areas.
Another senior officer said the highway robbers are targetting not just vulnerable people but also new trucks - with or without goods.
"They would chase the new truck in another truck at night. On a deserted stretch, they would overtake it and forcefully bring it to a halt," Deputy Commissioner of Police (Crime and Railways) Ravindra Yadav told IANs.
"They would then threaten the driver and the cleaner by brandishing a gun, tie them up with ropes and sedate them with drugs before throwing them on the roadside and fleeing with the truck," he added.
According to Yadav, they wouldn't think twice before shooting someone if they resisted.
The trucks would then be dismantled and the parts sold in Delhi, the National Capital Region (NCR), Uttar Pradesh and Bihar for about Rs. 3-3.5 lakh.
Similarly, the police arrested another gang in January, from Majnu Ka Tila in north Delhi when they were trying to dispose of a truck laden with cartons containing toothpaste valued at around Rs. 9.5 lakh.
Unfortunately, the fact that very few of such gangs have been arrested gives their morale a major boost.
"After committing the crime, these gangs enter into neighbouring states like Haryana and Uttar Pradesh even before we get to know of the incident," Yadav added.
As highway robbers are operating with impunity, police increased their vigilance and formed various teams to nab them. Police said that till March, they have busted three gangs of highway robbers and solved many cases.
"We want people to be careful when they are traveling on the highways. They have to be alert. Taking lifts or stopping vehicle to give lifts (to others) is a big no-no," Yadav added.
(Rajnish Singh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)