IN THE two weeks since the detention of gangster Ravi Pujari in Senegal, the Mumbai Police has not received a single complaint regarding an extortion call.
Senior officers said that currently, three to four extortion calls are received every fortnight from gangs on an average. The apparent lull in extortion since Pujari’s detention on February 22, the police believe, is on account of the fact that Pujari accounted for nearly 50 per cent of Mumbai’s extortion money pie. In addition, Pujari’s neutralisation will change the way underworld gangs operate in the city, officers said.
A senior Crime Branch officer said, “Over the past two weeks, not one extortion call has been reported, which is unusual for the city, which sees around eight to 10 such calls in a month. This lull is most likely due to Ravi Pujari, a big player in the extortion business, being out of the picture. The other gangs would also want to see what changes this development brings and are cautious before they start making calls again.”
The first round of change
In the 1990s, when the underworld’s shadow loomed large, even lavish weddings in Mumbai could attract the dreaded phone call from the D Company or Chhota Rajan. Since the mid 2000s, however, the stranglehold of the underworld over business in Mumbai reduced after the police went after it. Eventually, Rajan was deported to the city and it became too risky for Dawood Ibrahim to use his voice to make threat calls. The D Company also developed rifts, with the likes of Anees Ibrahim and Chhota Shakeel starting their own gangs. Officers said that these callers no longer use the name of Dawood to demand money .
An officer said that after Pujari, gangster Ejaz Lakdawala made the most number of extortion calls in Mumbai. Lakdawala (50), believed to be running his extortion business from Canada, functions under a different name there.
Lakdawala is known to target builders, especially those from the Muslim community, and filmstars. “He is from Mumbai and had a stronghold in the Nallasopara area. In 1998, he fled from Nashik prison where he was lodged for an assassination attempt on a Chhota Shakeel aide. He later joined the Chhota Rajan gang,” the officer said.
“In 2003, he survived an assassination attempt by Dawood’s men and was detained by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Ottawa in 2004. However, eventually, in the absence of an extradition treaty, he was allowed to go,” the officer added.
Apart from Lakdawala, the police said that Ghatkopar-born Suresh Pujari, known to operate in Thane and beyond, is another gangster who has been in the police radar sporadically. Suresh Pujari, who has in the past worked with Ravi Pujari — the two are unrelated — in Mumbai, relocated his area of operation to Ulhasnagar after the Crime Branch began to go after him. In 2007, he fled India but continued making extortion calls. “Now that Ravi Pujari is out of the picture, Suresh may want a share of the pie,” a senior officer said.
The police have also found gangster Prasad Pujari making threat calls in the city, albeit infrequently. Prasad, the police said, was an associate of gangster Kumar Pillai, who was extradited to India from Singapore in 2016. “Prasad restricts his operations to the eastern suburbs, especially the Vikhroli-Kanjurmarg belt, where Pillai was active at one time. Prasad until recently was functioning from Hong Kong,” an officer said.
Officers said changes in the underworld are certain with the detention of Ravi Pujari. “Members of the Ravi Pujari gang would now be subsumed by some other gangs that may try to exploit the gap left by Pujari,” a senior officer said.