March 29, 2021 7:35:36 pm
When the overall crime rate in Mumbai dropped during the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown last year, motor vehicle thefts rose marginally and their detection rate went down, as Mumbai Police were caught up in enforcing lockdown norms to help arrest the spread of Covid-19.
The response to a Right to Information (RTI) query made by The Indian Express shows that a total of 2,801 motor vehicle thefts took place in 2020, wherein 1,085 cases account for 39 per cent of the total cases detected. Of the total 2,801 vehicle theft cases, 2,019 cases were of two-wheelers, 185 were four-wheelers and the remaining 623 cases were thefts of other vehicles like rickshaws, tempos etc.
Incidentally, even before the lockdown and with police nakabandi at entry-exit points, thieves managed to steal more vehicles from Mumbai. In the year 2019, a total of 2,619 vehicles were stolen and 1,157 i.e. 43% of the vehicles were recovered
The data also shows that most vehicle thefts took place in the North (Goregaon to Dahisar), West (Bandra to Jogeshwari) and East region (Ghatkopar-Mulund, Chembur-Mankhurd) of the Mumbai Police, as it enabled the thieves to slip out of the city faster as compared to South Mumbai or Central Mumbai. About 2,054 of the 2,801 cases i.e. 73% of the thefts took place occurred in these three regions.
In 2018, Mumbai Police dismantled the special Anti-Motor Vehicle Theft unit and Anti-Chain Snatching units and merged them with the Property Cell of the Mumbai Crime Branch. Property Cell officers concentrate on inter-state gangs operating in the city. Most stolen vehicles are taken to Gujarat and Rajasthan from the Mumbai route or the Dhule route. A majority of the vehicles are stolen from unreserved parking lots, as lakhs of vehicles are parked on the pavement or on the side of the footpath due to lack of space and civic planning in the city.
Property Cell officers, speaking anonymously, said two-wheelers are stolen mostly for joy rides and are found abandoned later or are sold somewhere.
Among four-wheelers, white cars are in high demand. Four-wheelers are bought by many bootleggers who sell liquor in Gujarat– where liquor consumption is banned– and drug peddlers in Rajasthan. The smugglers use these stolen cars and if police are trailing them, they simply abandon the vehicle. Police are unable to trace the car’s owner as the chassis number is damaged and the number plates are changed, and the cars lay untraced at police stations near the Gujarat or Rajasthan borders. There have also been instances where stolen cars from Mumbai were recovered from Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and once in Hyderabad. But officers say most cars are taken to north India.
While in most cases, the accused change the number plate and erase the chassis numbers and use the car for committing a crime, there is a fool-proof modus operandi used by gangs to sell stolen vehicles as second-hand vehicles with proper documentation.
A Crime branch officer said anonymously, “We refer to this modus operandi as Alti- Palti (interchanging). The gang buys damaged cars from insurance companies with proper documentation. Gang members then steal a car of the same model, colour and even the same registration year. They recce for such a car anywhere in Mumbai and steal it. The damaged car’s documents are then used for the stolen car’s paperwork and sold with proper documentation as a second-hand car. To ensure this does not happen, concrete steps need to be taken by the R.T.O and insurance companies must give all details of scrapped cars to the R.T.O.”
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