THE DEATH of a five-year-old boy at Ghatkopar after getting locked inside a car last week has put the spotlight on the problem the Mumbai Police faces in storing recovered stolen vehicles. Given the growing number of stolen vehicles stacked at police stations and Crime Branch units, the Mumbai Police have now started using private properties to park the vehicles, due to lack of space.
In the Ghatkopar incident, five-year-old Kurban Khan, who was playing with his friends, entered one of the 20 vehicles been recovered by the Crime Branch in November that had been parked in a compound of an under-construction building after the Crime Branch could not find the space to keep it. Later the boy’s body was found inside the car.
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Once a stolen vehicle is recovered by the police, the complainant has to recover it from the High Court after completing due procedure that can take up to six months. Officers say that there are conditions like taking the signature of the accused before the court can hand over the vehicle to the complainant.
“If the accused is lodged in a distant jail, then it takes all the more time. Thus, the smallest thing can delay handing over the vehicle,” an officer said.
Several officers said that the biggest problem, however, was the fact that complainants, in cases of car theft, claim insurance money soon after the vehicle is stolen, and this at times covers up a substantial chunk of their stolen vehicle’s value. “If they accept the insurance money, they cannot accept the vehicles. Meanwhile, the vehicle, unused for years together, develops technical snags and is eventually rendered useless,” the officer said.
“On the other hand, sometimes, the owner may not have valid paper work for the car. The court is strict when it comes to handing over stolen property. Hence if there is no valid paperwork, the vehicle is not granted to them,” said a police officer. Another officer said that in some cases, where they bust big gangs and recover a number of vehicles, the number plates and chassis number of cars are changed. Hence, it is not possible to track down the owner.
In the Ghatkopar incident, an officer said that the 20 vehicles they recovered were acquired by the accused by of fraudulently taking loans in the names of 20 persons. “The vehicles technically belong to nobody and we have requested the bank that approved the loan to take custody of the vehicles. However, we have heard nothing from them.”
A senior officer said that normally in cases of cars being unclaimed for years together, either the vehicles are destroyed or auctioned off. The procedures are, however, carried out infrequently, which leads to such cars lying with the police.