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Dabbawala on weekdays, robber on weekends

Santosh Gopal Nair (45) is a veteran in his trade, having taken to a life of crime at the young age of 17. A few years ago he gave it all up and moved to Pune for the sake of his family. However, Nair would clandestinely continue to come to Mumbai on weekends to feed his kleptomania, favouring Andheri’s eastern industrial units.


Dabba gul: Santosh Gopal Nair was arrested by Unit X of Crime Branch. Nair moved to Pune and started a dabbawalla business. He would drive down in a cab to Mumbai over the weekends to steal from Andheri’s industrial units

He was apprehended recently by Unit X of Crime Branch, ending a nine-year manhunt. Cops say his arrest has also helped solve about 135 cases of housebreaking and robbery.

Nair’s favoured hiding place for stolen goods was several feet deep in the Malpa Dongri cowsheds. PI Rauf Shaikh of Unit X said, “When he was last arrested, then senior inspector of police Samad Shaikh had fallen waist-deep in cow dung, while trying to extricate stolen property.”

Apart from Nair, Crime Branch has also nabbed his associates Chhaggan Rathod, Ghantsu Rambali Yadav, Jagdish Suvarna and Vinod Yadav. The 135 cases against Nair are registered in Andheri, Jogeshwari, Goregaon, Dahisar, Meghwadi and Andheri’s MIDC area.

“Having grown up in there, Nair was familiar with the entire MIDC area. At the insistence of his wife, Nair moved to Pune, started a dabbawalla business, and purchased four motorcycles,” senior inspector of police from Unit X Gopika Jagirdarsaid.

He failed to completely rid himself of his habits and would drive down in a cab to Mumbai over the weekend to steal from Andheri’s industrial units. His gang members would scout out the best places for Nair to plan a heist.

In 2003, Nair had robbed a jewellery company of Rs 35 lakh in valuables. After this caper, his name cropped up during investigations in a robbery that had taken place at Catro India Pvt Ltd, where the accused had escaped with Rs 48 lakh in diamonds and 11 kilograms of gold.

PI Rauf Shaikh of Unit X said, “Nair would escape taking along with him safe full of valuables. He knew that breaking them was time consuming, and preferred to haul the entire coffer with the contents. In a similar theft in 2009 at a paper box company at MIDC, he had fled with a 750 kg vault that had valuables of around Rs 99 lakh inside.” Nair also used the help of several henchmen and a truck to make good his escapes.

At the time, police had managed to arrest all the accused, but Nair — the kingpin — had eluded them. “It was in the process of hauling out the 750 kg vault from cow dung that the senior inspector had fallen in,” added Shaikh. The vault was eventually towed out of the heap with the help of a truck.

Speaking to MiD DAY, PSI Sanjay Gaikwad from Crime Branch Unit X said, “Acting on a tip-off, constable Khanvilkar and I went to arrest Nair but learnt he seldom left home. Our investigations revealed Nair’s men used to deliver dabbas to around 600 people in call centres. We had managed to note down numbers of his bikes, but we didn’t know what Nair looked like.”

Gaikwad added, “We had been on his trail for days. When we noticed an unfamiliar face on one of the bikes on October 19, we followed him. It was Nair, on his way to throw out some garbage.”  Nair has two sons, one of whom is a software engineer at Pune while the other is a gym instructor. 

Shaikh added, “Nair had saved the predominantly Muslim cow shed owners during the 1993 riots. He was both feared and respected by over 99 shed owners in the Malpa Dongri area in Andheri (E). When police would come knocking, Nair would hide inside different sheds making it difficult for cops to arrest him. He also does not use a cellphone, so police had few ways of tracing him,” said Shaikh.

According to police, Nair did not trust anybody from his gang. If he ever wanted to communicate with them, he would drive to Nashik before calling his aides from an STD booth. When police would trace his calls, they would end up on a wild goose chase in Nashik, since Nair actually lived in Pune.  

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