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Car theft and crime on rise in COVID-19 lockdown

Lockdown has not only frustrated the people over lack of earning opportunities it has worried them of losing things of their own. Despite the lockdown in May, vehicle thefts in Mumbai continued to rise. In April, Mumbai police had registered 84 vehicle theft cases. The number rose to 158 in May. Last year, 218 cases were registered in May. 19,907 vehicles stolen in Mumbai in 6 years; only 5,732 found. There were 19,907 motor vehicle thefts in the city between 2013 and 2018. On an average, at least nine vehicles are stolen daily and crowded areas like Pydhonie, Azad Maidan and Mulund are particularly vulnerable to these crimes.

Mumbai, has very less parking space as most of the societies have no parking space or builders sell them separately to the flat owners. Most of the people in Mumbai park their cars outside their houses overnight. Some people even park the cars where ever they managed to get the place in surrounding areas. Many a times not cars but covers, screen inside cars, wheels and even the covers get stolen. The number of thefts had consistently been around 3,000 for the past three years, despite initiatives like installing CCTVs across the city. The gangs involved in the vehicle thefts should be identified by the police but the burglars are smarter than the cops, they cover their faces, they do good reiki of the place before committing crime, they check the angles of CCTV and by taking all sorts of precautions they act. In most of the cases in spite having CCTV footage, police fail to nab the criminal.

According to the city’s transport department, there were 33.4 lakh vehicles plying in Mumbai in 2017-18 and in 2018-2019, the number has risen to 35 lakhs even while the number of thefts has remained around the 3,000 mark. In the last decade, vehicle thefts have decreased from 4,068 in 2008 to 3,203 in 2018 due to CCTVs, awareness and quick action by police. Police said the increase in the number of vehicle thefts between 2017 and 2018 may be due to congestion. Illegal parking on roads makes it easier for robbers to access vehicles. Officials said crowded neighborhoods like Pydhonie, Azad Maidan, Lokmanya Tilak Marg, Kurla, Andheri, Ghatkopar and Mulund, are vulnerable to the thefts. In South Mumbai generally, after registering the case, police find out the bike or car abandoned in some other area, with an empty petrol tank. But still there is the low rate of recovery of stolen vehicles, because the thieves often change the chassis number of vehicles. In such cases, the vehicle is stolen at night and by the morning, when the theft is reported by the owners, the robbers have driven the vehicle out of Maharashtra and overwritten or changed the chassis number. Maximum robbed vehicles land up in Uttar Pradesh or Bihar or even Nepal. Once the vehicle is traced, it is expensive to bring it back to Mumbai and difficult to identify the original owner since the chassis number has been changed. Also, after owners of stolen vehicles claim insurance on the theft, they usually do not want to claim the found vehicle for fear that it was involved in a crime. The owners do not turn up in front of the magistrates as they have already claimed insurance.

As a result of the lockdown, there has been a marked change in the crime pattern across the city. While in April, no chain snatching cases were reported across the city, in May two cases were reported. While cases of house break-ins came down, there was a rise in cases of molestation and brawls. Data released by Mumbai police shows that in May, 158 motor vehicle theft cases were reported which means five vehicles — including bikes, cycles and cars — were stolen every day. In April, the figure was 84. Nearly 60 per cent of these cases involve bikes. It is easier to steal two-wheelers and in desperation bikes are sold for as low as Rs 5,000. Also, parts of bikes are sold separately. In some cases, vehicles were also stolen to move around in the absence of any modes of transport. Apart from this, cases of brawls went up to 266 in May compared to 148 cases in April. A lot of these cases are being reported from chawls and slum areas where there is overcrowding and people are fighting over petty issues.

The Anti-Motor Vehicle Theft (AMVT) unit of the Mumbai Police Crime Branch had last year busted a gang allegedly involved in stealing cars and selling them as second-hand vehicles after changing their chassis number and engine number. The non-availability of parking spaces in residential areas, the indifference of owners, reluctance to spend on safety devices, as well as lacunae like re-registration of vehicles in some states and manual maintenance of records are some of the factors behind the rising number of vehicle thefts in the city. Maharashtra Police had sometimes back launched a website that allows a quick registration of theft of motor vehicles to help solve the case in a record 21 days.

The website has been designed on the lines of the applications and websites that are being used by police in Delhi and Bangalore. It aims to keep a tab on the rising cases of vehicles being stolen and provide a hassle-free process for registering complaints. Apart from Mumbai, the stolen vehicle is a common phenomenon in other cities like Thane, Pune and other metro cities in India. The vehicles stolen are generally used for illegal purposes. The website has been linked to the National Crime Records Bureau, State Crime Records Bureau and the Regional Transport Authority. According to the official website of the Mumbai Police, 36,000 vehicles worth R115 crore are stolen annually in India out of which only about 14,500 are traced. And even the stolen cars that are retrieved come back stripped bare. Why? Because before they are sold off, many of the accessories and spare parts are taken out since they command a high price in Mumbai’s infamous Chor Bazaar.

Car stereo sets, car brand emblems and other accessories are in huge demand in Mumbai’s grey market. The music systems are usually sold in Kurla’s Chor Bazaar while the emblems are sold both at the Chor Bazaar as well as in some garages in Kalina and Kurla. It depends of what make and price range the music systems belong to, says a senior officer of the city police’s detective department. Cops say they have lost track of how many thousands of car stereos and logos have been reported stolen. Small wonder then that Mumbai is apparently referred to as the ‘one-way godown’ among car thieves. This is the reason, says the officer, why the Mumbai police have not been able to break into the syndicate that forges papers for stolen vehicles.

Molestation cases also went up, from 36 cases in April to 56 cases in May. Theft cases too went up from 34 in April to 51 in May. While eight murder cases were reported in April, 10 were reported in May. The maximum cases that have been reported in the past two months are those under Section 188 of the IPC. These cases mainly relate to people not following lockdown measures like travelling without permission and not wearing masks.

Dr Vaidehi Taman
Dr Vaidehi an Accredited Journalist from Maharashtra is bestowed with Honourary Doctorate in Journalism, Investigative Journalist, Editor, Ethical Hacker, Philanthropist, and Author. She is Editor-in-Chief of Newsmakers Broadcasting and Communications Pvt. Ltd. for 11 years, which features an English daily tabloid – Afternoon Voice, a Marathi web portal – Mumbai Manoos, monthly magazines like Hackers5, Beyond The News (international) and Maritime Bridges. She is also an EC Council Certified Ethical Hacker, Certified Security Analyst and is also a Licensed Penetration Tester which caters to her freelance jobs.

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