Hot on his Wheels

Published: 09 November, 2011 09:26 IST | Hemal Ashar |

In a real life edge-of-the-seat thriller, South Mumbai couple gets their stolen car back as they chase thief all the way to Gujarat via tracking system; intrepid cops move fast

In a real life edge-of-the-seat thriller, South Mumbai couple gets their stolen car back as they chase thief all the way to Gujarat via tracking system; intrepid cops move fast
The computer has changed everything. That is why when husband-wife couple Chandru and Rupal Khemlani felt a momentary darkness in their lives, thanks to a missing car,  it was only transient. After a few panic-stricken moments, Rupal put on the computer in the house and her room and life was once again filled with purpose and brightness.

Track it back: Chandru and Rupal Khemlani with their children and the
Pajero car at Marine Drive Police Station. pic/SURESH KK

On Diwali, October 26 morning, South Mumbai businessman Chandru looked out of a flat in a building right opposite the Cricket Club of India (CCI), and found to his shock that his new Pajero car that he had parked outside the building on Dinshaw Vachcha Road was missing. Said Chandru, "We are Altamount Road residents  but were staying at a relative's house for a few days during Diwali. Just one day before Diwali, my wife and I went out and returned fairly late at night. We were shopping and had bought loads of boondi laddoos from Tiwari, the store at Opera House as we had a Diwali pooja at my office in Prabhadevi on Diwali day. We had left the laddoos in the car."

Chandru says, "I woke up fairly early and went to the window of the flat. I looked up expecting to see my Pajero there. To my horror it was not where I parked it. After it registered that it has been stolen  I woke up my wife - it took me some time to convince her that it had been stolen. I then set off for Marine Drive Police Station to register a First Information Report (FIR). I believe in quick thinking and quicker action."

While Chandru was off to the police station, his wife, Rupal switched on the computer. The Rs 26 lakh car, bought on Dussehra day in fact, just a few days prior to Diwali was equipped with a state-of-the-art General Positioning System (GPS). The screen came to life and Rupal started tracking the car via satellite with computer imagery showing her exactly where her car was being taken. While Chandru was with the Mumbai police, Rupal was tracking the car on computer. It had already been gone for a few hours, when she had started tracking and it was evident that the thief was headed out of the city and Maharashtra state.  Rupal traced the car going towards Vapi (Gujarat). Say Chandru and Rupal, "We know Gujarat like the back of our hands. Several of our work projects are done in Gujarat. At about 8 am, the computer showed the car stopping. The thief stopped at a dhaba on the way, maybe to eat his breakfast. We could even guess the dhaba."

Meanwhile, Chandru says, "We were talking on the phone to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Hindustan Trackers, Himanshu Bhatt. He told me that his office had become a command centre for my car. He added that he could 'freeze' the car immediately. He said to me, "Give me orders, and I can stop your car from moving right now." The thief will be unable to take it further." Yet, there was trepidation. If the car stops abruptly, the thief would have realised there is something wrong and run away or damaged the car. Chandru says, "We had two choices - either to freeze the car then and there, or trail it to catch the thief. I am a man who likes to nip the problem in the bud - go to the root of the problem, so to speak. I decided to follow the car and catch the thief."

With Rupal tracking the car on the computer, Chandru set off in pursuit with two cars and a police team from Marine Drive police station. Rupal and Chandru explained that the shortest route out of Maharashtra is Gujarat, "In a mere three hours one can leave Maharashtra and reach Gujarat and that is where most stolen cars are headed at first." 

The computer showed that the Pajero had entered Vapi. Rupal saw that the car was parked at 8.33 am at a place called Siddhant Parking lot in Vapi. It was learnt later that the thief gave the car keys to the parking lot owner saying, "I will come back in two days." The thief disappeared after that. The Mumbai police along with Chandru reached the spot in Vapi by 12.30 pm. The Mumbai police posted two persons to guard the car they had secured it, "aamhi gaadi tabyaat ghetli" is common police lingo for that. The Mumbai police team along with the Gujarat team co-ordinated and approximately at 4 pm the same day, with all formalities completed, Chandru and the  police team came back to Mumbai with the stolen Pajero.

Cops are tops: Chandru and Rupal (looking over his shoulder) praise
the police

The car was at the Marine Drive police station for a couple of days till formalities like going to the Metropolitan Court were completed. After a few days of back 'n' forth between Marine Drive police station and home, Chandru and Rupal Khemlani finally got back possession of their car on November 3. They laugh as they say, "Ours was quite a story. Our children's friends came in saying they wanted to see the car, whether the thief was caught, how he was caught... etc. Our friends rib us saying we should write a thriller, about how we got the Pajero back."

The thief has also been caught (see box: Lessons Learnt) and the car is a four-wheeled testament to persistence. At the heart of it all, is a system called the GPS, which proved that there is a (sate)llite at the end of every dark tunnel.

What the cops say
The Mumbai police website has a piece warning drivers about car theft. While most of these tips are known and certain instructions like parking in a secure facility are impractical in a city, where cars outnumber parking spaces, it is worth a read, to give one an idea about the magnitude of car theft across the city. See this link:

Every year, nearly 36,000 vehicles, which amount to Rs 115 crore, are stolen in India out of these, only about 14,500 are traced, often in un-roadworthy conditions, with many components missing. These vehicles are stolen only because thieves are provided with the opportunity to steal them. Very often, cars are left improperly secured and unattended. It is only with the installation of anti-theft devices that a thief's attempts can be frustrated.

Parking in a secure parking facility (garage, petrol pump, etcetera.) at night also safeguards against theft. If such parking facilities are not available, parking in a well-lit area is the next best alternative. It is advisable to get the number of your car etched on your windscreens and window glasses. It helps the authorities to trace your car if stolen.

That's where our car was going: Follow the red line to see how the Khemlanis started tracking their car
from 8 am onwards. At approximately 8.33 am it halts near Government School, near Classic Ceramics and
Siddhant Parking lot. imaging/ Jishu Dev Malakar

What you should do...
>> Use securing devices like steering lock, clutch lock, brake lock, etc.
>> Double-check all doors, including the boot. 
>> If possible, install loud alarm systems in your car, so that thieves can be discouraged even if they manage to break into your car. 
>> Try and use detachable music systems and take them with you whenever you park the car for a long time, so that there is no temptation for thieves to make a quick steal when they see expensive items in parked cars.
u Paint your car number on the front and rear end of the body, apart from the number plates. Ideally, have it etched on the windscreens and window glasses too. This prevents them from being misused by criminals using fake number plates.

What you should not do...
>> Never leave the vehicle door unlocked, nor the windows partially open. Make sure that the quarter glasses are properly secured.
>> Do not leave valuables inside the car, even if it is locked, as this will attract thieves.
>> Do not overdo extra fittings, as these tempt prospective thieves.
>> Never leave the key dangling in the ignition.

Lessons Learnt
The thief was also traced and is currently at the Azad Maidan police station lock up. The Khemlanis give full credit to the Mumbai police for doing a superlative job. They mention Inspector Mahadik and  Mohini Lokhande especially. Says Chandru, "People are quick to  blame and criticise the police, and so, we think it is important to give them credit when it is due. They moved with alacrity." Rupal and Chandru share a few tips through their experience:
>> The policeman is not a watchman. In a city, where people outnumber police, it is impossible for the police to keep tabs on each and every vehicle.

>> When buying a luxury car, it is important to go in for a satellite tracking system. You pay in lakhs for a car, so why not pay Rs 20,000 or a little more and get a Vehicle Tracking System installed in the car?

>> We have learnt that Pajeros are one of the most sought after and stolen cars in the city.

>> Once your car leaves state borders, it is increasingly difficult to get it back and it becomes an inter-state problem. The shortest route out of Maharashtra is Gujarat, in approximately three hours, one can leave Maharashtra.

>> It would be helpful if buildings install CCTVs facing the main road, we have CCTVs in the porch telling us who is coming inside the building, but, what about what is happening outside the gate?

>> Toll nakas should have CCTVs installed to make tracing theft much easier.       

Take Control
Says Himanshu Bhatt, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and president of Hindustan Trackers, "it is important for car owners to be in control of their vehicles at all times, not just at the steering wheel. A tracking system helps them take control. Most car thieves are very low on awareness about car tracking systems. We also tell owners to immobilise their cars, when not in use. At night, after they park their cars, they can immobilise them. It takes barely 40 seconds to do that and another 40 seconds to re-start them." Bhatt remembers how a car belonging to owner A Gawade was traced all the way to Nagpur thanks to the GPS system. "We have a high recovery rate with almost 125 vehicles traced in 1.5 years." Bhatt says that most owners, "simply want their vehicle back. They do not want to know or have anything to do with tracing the thief. In the Khemlani case, they took the initiative and the gang was busted. That is very important." Bhatt adds that if, "police stations have a nodal person only responsible for vehicle tracking this would be helpful for car owners who are wary about being mired in a slew of red tape while tracing their car." In the end though, Bhatt says, "The GPS is like a silent watchman for a vehicle, deceptive, spot on and as this case has shown, highly effective."

In case your car is stolen...
>> Report the theft to the nearest police station.
>> Inform your insurance company.

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