Coronavirus impact: Saphale prawn farms hit by 'chingri chors'

Updated: May 21, 2020, 07:39 IST | Hemal Ashar | Mumbai

Aquaculture industry says gangs are targetting them, sometimes stealing 250 kg of fish worth Rs 1 lakh at one go

The farmers' grapevine suggests at least three prawn thefts a month
The farmers' grapevine suggests at least three prawn thefts a month

One of the lockdown's lesser known impacts, has been a spike in brash robberies at prawn farms, in a small town called Saphale, located in Palghar district in Maharashtra."

This town, two train stations ahead of Virar, is a pulsating aquaculture hub. Many farmers, several from Mumbai too, have ponds cultivating prawns primarily, which they sell in local markets, or to processors for export.

Kirthiraj Salian, Shakti Aquaculture
Kirthiraj Salian, Shakti Aquaculture

Jimmy Maneckshaw, a prawn farmer originally from Mumbai, and based in Saphale for more than 20 years now, said, "The farmers' grapevine reports at least three thefts a month. There is a viral and true video of a recent robbery in progress doing the rounds."

Maneckshaw, who has 11 ponds in Saphale said that though farms had security, "It is difficult to secure huge expanses. Thieves strike in gangs of 10 going up to 15, intimidating owners and staff." They use casting nets to catch the shrimp. The robbers often throw some feed in the water and catch the fish. It is done under cover of darkness. He added that this has become "easy money" for criminals.

Jimmy Maneckshaw, prawn farmer
Jimmy Maneckshaw, prawn farmer

Armed and dangerous
Kirthiraj Salian of the famous Shakti Aquaculture, called them "dacoities." He said, "Gangs converge using rods, knives and now even rifles. They can take anything between 250 to 300 kg of fish. These are rich pickings, they can fetch you approximately R 1 lakh in the market."

They cart the shrimp to a waiting vehicle stationed nearby. The goods have to be sold quickly. The chain means it is easy to nab these criminals. Farm owners feel cops need to be stricter and speedier in resolving the complaints.

Ravi Kumar Yellanki, Vasaikhi Bio-Marine Pvt. Ltd
Ravi Kumar Yellanki, Vasaikhi Bio-Marine Pvt. Ltd

Equipment gone
Sachin Akre and another farmer from Saphale said, "It is not just fish, but on site equipment like PVC pipes, cement bags, engines are also stolen. These are huge losses, especially for small owners."

Akre explained, "The gangs are split into two. One segment creates a ruckus, with an intent to distract. As staff go there, another group strikes at a pond."

Kunal Kini, another farm owner added, "A number of owners are now contemplating extensive CCTV surveillance, but with huge areas to cover this is not easy. Earlier, thieves stole to feed themselves. Now, they take big amounts to make a killing in the market."

Totally brazen
Ravi Kumar Yellanki, managing director, Vasaikhi Bio-Marine Pvt. Ltd, supplier of seed to prawn farmers in Saphale said the thieves, "are displaying a new level of audaciousness. They sell their loot as fish from this farm or the other, cheekily touting the biggest names in aquaculture. Some of the stories of the robberies sound like they belong to a Banana Republic, not India." With the lockdown due to COVID-19 deepening desperation, Saphale's 'chingri' chors are transforming from a rag tag bunch into well-organised, armed criminal gangs.

Police speak
Senior officials from Saphale and Kelwa Sagari police stations, however, said there were not too many complaints. The Kelwa Sagari station police said they have some complaints and were quick to register them. They claimed to have apprehended a few persons in connection with the crimes. "We also conduct rigorous night patrolling," an official said.

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