Using an SUV robbed from the town last week, armed men intercepted a bank cash van headed from Chandigarh to Rajpura, threw out its occupants including two security guards, hijacked the vehicle, and then abandoned it a few kilometres away after emptying the cash boxes of Rs 1.34 crore kept in them.
The robbers carried out the heist without firing a single shot, the security guards made no attempt to resist them and their guns were snatched, and the surveillance camera in the van did not record anything as its memory was full — all of which made the police suspect it was an “inside job”.
The incident is similar to the one which took place on Siswan-Baddi road in December 2013, in which a van of the same bank was robbed of Rs 1.69 crore, but the robbers in that case are behind bars.
Around 8 am, the van left from Axis Bank’s currency chest branch in Sector 34, Chandigarh, to replenish cash in the branches in Rajpura and Patiala. The van and the staff belonged to Securitrans India Pvt Ltd (SIPL), a cash transfer agency. The staff included a driver, a helper, a supervisor and two security guards.
To avoid traffic on the Sohana-Landran road, the van took the road dividing Sectors 84 and 85 to reach the Landran-Banur road. It was intercepted at a deserted spot by a white Toyota Fortuner near Raipur Khurd village. “I halted and tried to reverse the vehicle, but eight or nine men came out and started hitting at our van with hammers and sharp-edged weapons, damaging it. Many of them had pistols,” said Karamjit, the van driver.
Karamjit told the police that he got scared and opened his door, and the men pulled him out. They tried to throw chilly powder in the eyes of the van occupants, but missed. However, seeing so many assailants, the van occupants did not resist much and were pulled out.
The robbers snatched the two 12 bore double-barrel guns from the guards, and drove away towards the Landran-Banur road. From Saneta, they turned towards Durali village and the van was later found abandoned on the Saneta-Durali road, with a guard’s gun and an empty trunk lying nearby in the fields. Another empty trunk was found inside the van, along with a .32 bore magazine which, the police said, was of a countrymade pistol. The spot was a few kilometres away from where the van was robbed.
The police said the Fortuner then drove towards the nearby Chaumajra village, but hit a dead end, and turned back to Manauli village. “I had never seen a car being driven so fast. It stopped briefly in Manauli, and the occupants threw a gun, a bag, and some other items in a nullah before disappearing,” said a villager.
Several other empty trunks were found further ahead in a few villages. The Fortuner was found abandoned at Sekhan Majra village near Banur, with its interiors burnt, and it is not clear how the dacoits got away.
“The dacoits tried to burn the inside of the car before fleeing, but we found some monkey caps inside,” said DIG R K Jaiswal. He added that a CCTV was installed inside the cash cabin in the van, but there was no footage of the incident as its memory was full.
There were a total of eight trunks in the van of which six contained cash. All were emptied after breaking the locks.
While the van security claimed their guns were loaded, the recovered weapons had no cartridges. After the incident, senior officials, including IG (Patiala zone) Paramjit Gill, reached the spot, along with crime branch officials from Chandigarh and Panchkula.
“This route was not taken every day, and the van was not headed to replenish ATMs but banks, which does not happen every day either. We’ve asked for a list of all current employees of SIPL and those who recently left the agency,” said an official.
The Fortuner used in the crime was snatched at gunpoint from a property dealer in Sector 79, which falls under the Sohana police station, last Wednesday night. After the incident, SSP Gurpreet Bhullar sent Sohana SHO Satwant Singh to the police lines.
Sources said that two bags found at different points — one containing eatables and the other containing pages from a school textbook — have provided some clues about the robbers. “We have rounded up some usual suspects while a Lalru-based gang is also under our scanner,” sources said.