Earning flak from all quarters for failing to rein in chain- snatchers, who strike at will and get away with the booty almost unchallenged, the city police have decided to invoke Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) against the offenders, hoping the stringent law works as deterrent for the bike-borne criminals.
This means the maximum quantum of punishment for the chain snatchers -- who were so far booked for theft -- will increase to life imprisonment along with fines exceeding Rs 1 lakh, if the victim is killed or severely injured.
Persons found to be part of an organised crime syndicate can also be imprisoned for at least five years.
The Act also provides for special fast track courts in designated areas in a city. According to senior police officials, chain snatchers have struck people around 100 times and got away with jewellery worth Rs 6 lakh in the past 12 months. The city police, however, have solved around 42 such cases with the arrest of two persons and recovery of 850 gram of gold worth Rs 24 Lakh from their possession two months ago.
Armed with the MCOCA, the police have geared up to crackdown on the offenders by following a systematic database of all suspects. "We will keep a tab on each and every movement of the suspects," said a senior police official, requesting anonymity. According to highly-placed sources, the decision was taken recently by senior police officials as they unanimously agreed that the offenders worked in small but organised groups, warranting the invoking of the stringent law.
"The arrest of two persons around two months ago revealed both were involved in 42 incidents of chain snatching and collectively stealing around 1.28 kg of gold. This clearly indicates the crime is organised," said an official. The cops will also keep a close watch on suspects through the human intelligence or khabri network. "The moment they make any suspicious move, we will immediately swing into action and arrest them," said the
As the city comes perilously close to earning the sobriquet of the 'chain snatching capital of India', the cops are forced to make changes in investigation process of these cases from time to time. Take the case of former police commissioner Satya Pal Singh, who had ordered offenders to be booked for robbery (under section 392 of the IPC) instead of theft (under section 379) as dacoity also recognised physical injury to the victim.
"Victims bleed when heavy earrings and necklaces are snatched by bike-borne thieves. Since chain snatchers booked for theft, a bailable offense, they manage to get bail and continue with their crime with a vengeance", said an official.
Taking a cue from his predecessor Singh, Police Commissioner Meeran Borwankar had issued an order six months ago saying all chain snatching incidents should be investigated by the inspector (crime) of the respective police stations. The move was taken considering inability of constables and other junior officials to effectively investigate such cases, which have already very low conviction rate.
And to strengthen the human intelligence network, Borwankar had embarked on the Police-Vidyarthi Abhiyan that helped increase interaction between college students and cops. As part of the programme, police officials visited college campuses and interacted with youths over there. And to dispel the general sense of apprehensions among students, Police Mitras, a group of policemen who would visit college campuses and interact with students, were formed.
As the police developed rapport with the youth, the latter came forward to help the cops curb incidents of crime and share crucial information with them. For instance, two months ago, the police seized 70 grams of stolen jewellery based on the information provided by a student.
The police have also formed special teams, comprising men from the Anti-Dacoity Squad and the Crime Branch. These teams regularly patrol various parts of the city through out the day. There were at least five incidents of chain snatching this month along with jewellery over Rs 4 lakh being stolen and most incidents taking place in broad daylight. There were also five different incidents in early October in the span of 48 hours where jewellery worth Rs 4.5 Lakh were stolen by bike-borne thieves.