A 17-year-old cricket prodigy and a part-time carpenter are the brains behind more than 300 calls made over the past four months to families with missing members in Mumbai and Thane, the police have found.
The duo allegedly posed as kidnappers and demanded a ransom, the first to fund a promising career in cricket and the second for easy money. After terrorising families in Mumbai, Thane and even Delhi since January 16, the duo were caught attempting to extort money from a tailor living next to them last week.
The accused, Narendra Jaiswal and the juvenile budding cricketer, lived in Kalwa’s Waghoba Nagar slums. Jaiswal, the police said, supplemented his carpenter’s income by pasting posters on local trains. “On April 5, the duo made a call to a tailor in Waghoba Nagar and demanded Rs 50,000 from him. We had placed the number under surveillance and spoke to the tailor. He did not know the identity of the caller. But since we found that all calls had been made from Waghoba Nagar, we made him listen to a recording of a previous call and asked if he could identify the voice. He recognised the voice and said it belonged to the man living in the neighbouring shack. We caught both Jaiswal and the juvenile,” said an officer from the Thane Police Crime Branch’s Anti-Extortion Cell.
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According to the officer, the juvenile arrived in Mumbai from his home in Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh, in 2013. “He wanted to play cricket, but his family neither had the money and nor was there adequate infrastructure in his hometown. So he came to Mumbai, hoping to get noticed at the maidans,” the officer said.
After a chance encounter, Jaiswal, also a native of Azamgarh, gave the juvenile shelter in his house in Waghoba Nagar. The boy, the officer said, is a huge fan of cricketer Rohit Sharma, who also captains the Mumbai Indians franchise in the Indian Premier League.
“In 2013, he began making rounds of maidans and was accepted by a man coaching poor children for subsidised fees in South Mumbai. A few students of the Anjuman-I-Islam Urdu School in CST were also coached there and spoke about him to their school coaches,” N T Kadam, senior inspector, Anti Extortion Cell.
“The boy was soon picked by the Anjuman-I-Islam coaches and played four games in the Harris Shield in 2013 and 2014, scoring two centuries and a total of 304 runs. He played his last game on January 14, 2014,” Kadam said.
Over the past one year though, the police said, that the juvenile and Jaiswal faced a severe fund crunch, and the latter found a potential solution. “Jaiswal pasted all sorts of posters for a little money, including missing persons’ posters. He hit upon a plan to call the numbers given on the posters and telling the families that their members had been kidnapped,” the officer said.
Jaiswal, the police said, made the juvenile call the victims, so as not to be identified. “The juvenile did not refuse to do so because Jaiswal had given him a place to stay. He also earned between Rs 25,000 and Rs. 50,000 to buy his gear. When we spoke to him, he said good quality cricket bats were expensive, and it was impossible for a boy with no income to be able to buy it,” Kadam said.
According to the police, there are at least three offences each registered in Mumbai and Thane. “The duo always asked to be paid either Rs 50,000 or Rs 1 lakh and asked their victims to meet them at railway stations. However, as soon as they spotted policemen, they ran away without collecting the money. But they must have been successful on two or three occasions. These victims have just not come forward yet,” Kadam said.
Jaiswal is now in judicial custody, while the juvenile is at the children’s home in Bhiwandi.