Over 1,045 phones were reported stolen from local trains in 2013. Another 805 in 2012. Several hundred more from bus and autorickshaw commuters and pedestrians. Is Mumbai the most unsafe city in India to carry a mobile phone?
Guess how many mobile phones were stolen on Mumbai’s suburban locals in 2013? A staggering 1,045. And these are only the cases where the victims filed a written complaint with the police. Almost an equal number of mobile phones have been reported stolen from the streets of Mumbai — snatched from running auto rickshaws, BEST buses, in crowded streets and on deserted roads. The numbers are rising. And city’s police force is clueless about how to stop this menace.
Illustration and Graphic/ Amit Bandre
According to data available with the Government Railway Police (GRP), theft of expensive smartphones has seen a steep rise in the last two years. When the GRP caught a gang of thieves employed with the Indian Railways, inside the Mumbai-Delhi Rajdhani Express with over 30 mobile phones, it confirmed the data.
Railway rogues on government rolls
On January 22, the Mumbai Central GRP cracked a mobile stealing racket when they caught railway employees inside the Rajdhani express with several models of I-Phones and Samsung smartphones. The lid of the racket was blown off with the arrest of a train attendant called Pintu Sarkar, 26, who had 10 I-Phones with him. “During the course of investigations we caught another man who used to deliver these mobile phones to the grey market after cleaning the data,” said Rajendra Trivedi, senior PI, Mumbai Central GRP. The associate, Wasim Shaikh, 25, was arrested. Twenty-seven high-end Android and I-Phones were recovered from him.
How the phone mafia works
Sarkar would walk through the compartments of Rajdhani Express in search of passengers who might have left their phones on seats or on the table. He would pick up the phones and pass it off to Shaikh. In return he would get R2,500 for a pack of two-three phones. The pieces would be sold in grey markets in Mumbai. Sources in GRP said that the approximate cost of the 37 seized smartphones would be around R15 lakh. The cops also found 37 fake receipts issued to end customers after taking initial payments for these handsets.
Tip of the iceberg
The Shaikh-Sarkar duo was by no means the only one playing the game. In the year 2012 alone, there were 805 reported cases of phones at different railway stations. The figure rose to 1,045 in 2013. GRP officials say only a fraction of the thefts are actually reported. On many occasions the railway police registers a case of a lost cell phone just as a complaint. The reason: If a First Information Report (FIR) is filed, then the cops have to take cognisance and recover the stolen cell phone.
Data available with Sunday Mid Day further shows that in 2012, the GRP had detected 631 cases while in 2013, a record 710 cases were cracked throughout Mumbai suburban rail system and the phones recovered. But the remaining 700-odd phones lost in 2013 are yet to be found. Police sources, on condition of anonymity, said mobile thieves stand near signals or next to overhead wire poles, waiting for trains to slow down. Then they use a stick to hit the hand of an unaware commuter while standing on the footboard. Shocked, the person often lets go of the phone, which then falls on the tracks.
The 10 lakh-odd commuters travelling on the Harbour line are the worst affected. The number of cases on the Harbour line between Kurla and Panvel has doubled in 12 months. The next unsafe stretch is between CST and Kurla, which has also seen a steep rise in mobile thefts. Many such thieves move in groups wherein they pick a phone out of a pocket and merge into the crowd.
At least three women, all of them employees of the same firm, were victims of mobile theft gangs at different times in the past six months. The common factor: All of them had their phones robbed while travelling or getting off the bus number C-42 between Thane and Sion.
Vijaya Lakshmi Iyengar, Ruchi Garud and Namrata Madkaikar had their mobile phones stolen on the same bus route.
“I boarded my usual bus C-42 from Thane and settled down on the ladies seat. Two men stood next to the seats, staring at my LG Nexus5 phone and smiling at each other. When the bus reached Rani Lakshmi Chowk, I headed towards the exit and kept my phone in my handbag. Suddenly the men pushed us. I pushed one of the men back with my elbow. In the melee they must have picked my phone from the bag,” recalled Namrata Madkaikar, an employee of Inzane Labs.
Another employee of the same firm, Ruchi Garud says her iPhone4 was robbed at the same spot in January last year. “The men try to distract you by creating confusion and in trying to argue and push, you do not realise when your phone is gone,” she said. Vijaya Lakshmi Iyengar, their colleague had a similar experience. “I had my HTC phone robbed in May, 2012. The bus route and the bus number is the same (C-42),” she said.