How The Police Used Phone Surveillance to Nab A Gang Of Impersonators

The Nikshu gang would target loaded trucks running across Delhi-Haryana highways, intercept the vehicles by posing as policemen. REUTERS/ADNAN ABIDI
26 November, 2015

On the night of 6 November 2015, 60-year-old Inder Singh, a farmer from Lalpur village in Faridabad, hired an Eicher truck to carry around 55 quintals of paddy to Narela Mandi, a grain market in north-west Delhi. The truck was being driven by 36-year-old Rahul from the Mau district of Uttar Pradesh. (Rahul’s last name, like those of many others involved in this case, was never ascertained.) The truck left Lalpur for Delhi at around 10 pm, carrying Singh and his consignment.

At around midnight, the truck had covered 40 kilometers and was still around 30 kilometers away from its destination in Narela. It was flagged down on the outer ring road, behind Red Fort, by a white sedan, a Maruti Swift DZire, with a lit red beacon on top. Two of the sedan’s six occupants—all of whom wore plainclothes—got out of the car, and claiming to be policemen, demanded to see the documents for the truck. Upon inspection, the men declared that the documents were problematic, and asked the driver to talk to their superior officer, who, they said, was sitting in the car. Inder and Rahul followed the men. On reaching the car, he and Rahul were pulled in and manhandled, while the two men got into the truck. Rahul’s hands were chained behind his back and Singh was threatened into remaining silent. The vehicles drove off towards national highway one, as before, with two men in the truck and six in the car.

Inder and Rahul were not the first to be duped by this gang of six, which was later found to be based in and around Bawana and Qutabgarh, areas in Delhi that lie about 10 kilometers apart. According to a Delhi Police press release dated 15 November, the gang members had impersonated policemen in five other cases of robbery. The press release went on to identify the six perpetrators, four from Qutabgarh, and one each from Sangam Vihar in north-east Delhi and Sonipat district, Haryana, as constituting the Nikshu gang—led by 25-year-old Naveen, alias Nikshu.

The gang’s modus operandi ran thus: it would target loaded trucks running across Delhi-Haryana highways, intercept the vehicles by posing as policemen and harass the occupants under the guise of scrutinising the vehicle’s documents. The gang members would then lure the driver to the stolen Swift DZire—a car commonly associated with the Delhi Police—and overpower him, making off with the truck.

The gang members stripped Inder and Rahul of their mobile phones and money, and at around 2 am, dropped them off near some fields in Sonipat. According to Singh’s statement, the two of them approached a passerby for help, who called 100—the toll free number to get in touch with the police in India. Policemen from the Narotha police station in Sonipat arrived soon after, and took them to the station.

The next morning, on 7 November, it was established that the jurisdiction of the case lay with the Kotwali police station near Red Fort. A few hours later, a first information report (FIR) was filed at the station, under sections 395, 365, and 419 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). These sections define the punishments for dacoity, abduction, and personation, respectively. The same day, along with the Kotwali police, the case was assigned to a special staff team in Delhi’s north district. The special staff team, which deals with major crimes in the district, was led by Inspector Dhiraj Singh and comprised two sub-inspectors, five assistant sub-inspectors, three head constables, and five constables.

At around noon on 18 November, I visited the office of the additional commissioner of police for the operation cell of the north district to meet two members of the special staff team: Sub-Inspector (SI) Amit Kumar and Head Constable (HC) Harphool Singh. Kumar and Harphool described the process they followed to apprehend the gang. On 7 and 8 November, the special staff took help from Inder and Rahul to retrace the approximate route taken by the gang to reach Sonipat on the night of the incident. Thereafter, the police identified all the phone towers that fell on the route and acquired the dump data—which, SI Kumar explained, is the “data of all calls made and messages exchanged at a specific time through a specific tower”—from the service operators. They then studied this data to identify numbers that had been “active”—engaged on a call, or sending or receiving a text message—along the determined route. “We identified one suspect number that appeared in the data from various towers on the route, such as Red Fort and Bawana, around the time of the crime,” Harphool elaborated. He told me that this number had been active throughout the route from Red Fort to Sonipat on the night of the crime.

The police found that this number was registered under the name of a Vinod (no last name was given). They obtained Vinod’s call records, and identified which numbers he had called most frequently, guessing that these would be the numbers of the other gang members. Among these suspects, the police found that the maximum calls were made from the number registered to a Naveen, whom they suspected might be the gang leader. The number was registered to an address in Qutabgarh.

On 10 November, the police set out for Qutabgarh late in the night in search of Naveen and his accomplices. Harphool told me that they apprehended Naveen early next day, the morning of Diwali, and arrested him. Naveen then confessed to having formed the gang with his friends because he was in debt and needed to get money. He also disclosed the names and whereabouts of his accomplices—Vinod (22), Rajeev (21), Sunil (22), Nihal (21), and Rajkumar (21)—who were then arrested within the next 48 hours from around Qutabgarh.

The robbers were also identified in the CCTV footage acquired from cameras around Red Fort. Upon interrogation, the gang revealed that they had started out by committing minor street robberies. According to the press release, Naveen told the police that they had rented a flat and a godown in Bawana to use as a hideout, and to store the stolen goods. The gang then stole a Maruti Swift DZire from Murthal in Sonipat, and started committing highway robberies, targeting loaded trucks running across Delhi and Haryana.

The Special Staff team with members of the Nikshu gang (on the ground). {{name}}

Over the next three days, the joint team of the special staff and the Kotwali police station officers conducted various raids in an attempt to recover the stolen goods. On 11 November, based on Naveen’s confession, the police recovered the Swift DZire that had been used during the robber from an empty lot in Qutabgarh, along with Inder’s phone. When I asked the policemen where the gang may have acquired the red beacon they used to dupe their victims, a constable from the north district quipped, “Ideally, you are supposed to get it from proper channels, but in practice, they can be easily bought. Har teesra aadmi toh engineer hai, koi bhi bana ke bech sakta hai”—every third guy is an engineer; anybody can make one and sell it.

On 14 November, eight days after the robbery first took place, the entire paddy consignment was recovered from Kharkhoda in Sonipat. The paddy had been sold at the local grain market. According to the policemen I spoke to, they were able to identify it with the help of local traders and through the markings on the paddy sacks. The Eicher truck, meanwhile, was found abandoned nearby.

All six of the accused are currently being held at Tihar jail under judicial custody, and the matter is pending at Tis Hazari district court. The goods are in seizure and will be dealt with as per the court’s directions, Harphool told me. The five other robbery charges against the gang were registered at police stations in Narela, Bara Hindu Rao, Sangam Vihar, and Burari in Delhi, and Jhajjar in Haryana. “Recovery of stolen goods for the other cases is in process, the concerned police stations will take care of that. The criminals have been caught, so our job as special team is done,” Harphool concluded.