From Petty Robberies to Land Extortion and Murder: How Neeraj Bawana Became One of the Most Wanted Criminals in Delhi

30 April 2015
On 6 April 2015, Neeraj Bawana, who was sought on more than 40 counts of murder, land grabbing and extortion, was apprehended by the Special Cell of the Delhi Police.
Ravi Kanojia/ Express Archives

On the evening of 6 April 2015, the Special Cell of Delhi Police received a message from a source. Neeraj Bawana—one of the most wanted men in the capital, sought on more than 40 counts of murder, land grabbing and extortion—was going to be in Kamruddin Nagar in west Delhi at around midnight, and then head to Bawana, his hometown on Delhi’s north-west border. A press release that was circulated by the Special Cell on the day of his arrest said that Bawana was going home to visit his family. A senior official from the Cell told me that that Bawana often undertook these trips, and that they were important to keep his extortion racket running.

Police forces across the National Capital Region, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand—all areas where Bawana acted prominently—have been scrambling to catch him for over two years now. Even though 35 members of his gang were arrested in the past year, Bawana remained elusive. Barely educated but a quick learner, he had, according to the senior official I spoke to, picked up pointers from other criminals he had met during earlier stints in jail. He disguised himself when communicating online or over the phone, and changed vehicles often. When the police thought he was in one state, he was actually in another. More than a dozen operations to catch Bawana had failed.

But on the night he was arrested, the Special Cell had concrete information. Bawana, they knew, would be in a white Hyundai Verna with a registration number that ended in 4386. Quickly, a team of specialists was formed and equipped, and rushed to Rohtak Road, a long stretch of road which Bawana would have to cross. They laid a trap, and he fell into it. At 3.45 am, the king of the Delhi underworld was put in handcuffs.

Born as Neeraj Sehrawat in Bawana, in 1988, the name that Sehrawat came to be known by was an appropriation of the name of his town. Bawana was a relatively small settlement, surrounded mostly by farms. However in 1996, a few years after Sehraawat was born, the Supreme Court, following a petition, ordered that industrial units be relocated outside Delhi’s main urban areas. Bawana was picked as one of the areas for this relocation. The government bought land from farmers and sold it to industrialists. Many of the factories that were expected to relocate produced goods such as plastic, batteries and dyes, with noxious by-products. Like many other locals from the area, Prem Singh, Sehrawat’s father, who now works as a bus conductor for the Delhi Transport Corporation, owned large swathes of land in the area. I met him and his wife—neither she nor Singh gave me her name—in mid April, at Mukarba Chowk, in north-west Delhi. Singh was sketchy on the details, but told me that his land “yielded many different crops”.

Landowners in Bawana, a predominantly Jat village, were never poor, but had little interest in ostentatiousness. That changed as land was sold for the factories. There was a lot of new money floating about around the turn of the century, and the general consensus among the villagers I talked to on two visits to the town was that this was when swanky new cars, and much else, came flooding in.

Atul Dev is a staff writer at The Caravan.