Mumbai Crime: Child labour racket busted in Bhaucha Dhakka
After three teenagers were lured from a fish market to smuggle oil, the Yellow Gate police work out a plan to make the area a minor-free zone
The Yellow Gate Police have unearthed a major crime racket involving minors, after three teenage boys were detained for smuggling oil. While interrogating them, the police learned that boys as young as 16 from Bhaucha Dhakka in Mazagaon, were being lured with money to tug or ride boats with cans full of diesel, as adults were sceptical about doing the work. Further investigations revealed that several minors operated in small gangs at the fish market, stealing phones and even fish. Police officials are currently working at reforming teenagers in the area, who are allegedly involved in petty crimes.
Who delivers the oil?
In September last year, the Yellow Gate Police arrested the alleged kingpin of a diesel smuggling racket. According to the police, the arrested accused, Raju Pandit, has five cases registered against him. A police officer said, "On September 17, during Ganpati Visarjan, a team of cops patrolling the Arabian Sea, saw a suspicious vessel near Sewri jetty. When we entered the boat, no one was on board, but we found cans full of diesel." The police seized 25 litres of diesel.
Following investigations, the police found out that on the same day, 1,600 litres of diesel had been delivered via sea. An offence was registered against unknown persons at Yellow Gate police station, and the owner of the boat, Barkat, identified as Mohammad Shish Ansari, 58, was apprehended. Police then arrested another man, who had hired the boat, identified as Sonu alias Jamil Qureshi, 21. At the same time, police detained a 17-year-old for his alleged involvement. The minor was used for the delivery to avoid suspicion, and was promised R3,000 per consignment.
The police had noticed minors loitering at Bhaucha Dhakka in Mazagaon. At the same time, there had been a spike in petty thefts. File pic
During interrogation, Pandit's name cropped up. He was named in a long list of crimes, three of which were registered at the Yellow Gate police station. In 2014, he was held for smuggling oil worth R1.86 crore. Lata Donde, assistant commissioner of police (ACP), Yellow Gate division, said that after the incident, they had detained three minors—two 16-year-olds and a 17-year-old—who were working for oil smugglers. Pandit had a specific criteria, while selecting people for the operation. "The person had to be loyal, so that he would not spill the beans. They also had to have a clean record, so that cops wouldn't get suspicious," he said. Additional skills like sailing of boats, was also preferred.
According to an officer, another minor involved in the case, had learned how to sail, while out on sea with his father, a fisherman. "He was told that he'd get R3,000 to sail the boat in the night." The third minor, who was detained, told the cops that initially he played the role of a helper, doing basic work like anchoring the boat at the jetty or pushing it. For this, he was paid anywhere between R200 and R300 per day. When they offered R3,000 to the sail the boats, the boys agreed. "The minors were not aware that this was illegal work or that they could be prosecuted for the same."
A jetty full of petty criminals?
While investigating the oil mafia racket, the police found a lot of minors loitering around the jetty. The police had also noticed a spike in petty thefts in the area. "We apprehended a few minors; they usually came here with their parents, who are fish sellers. We instructed their parents to stop bringing them along, because they risked joining bad company," said Donde. A few fishermen opposed the move, saying they needed the kids to help them get the fish out of the boat deck.
Reforming the minors
Initially, the police issued strict warnings asking parents and contractors to stop hiring helpers on the boat. "We even started checking identity cards of the minors. If they failed to provide one, or were found to be minors, they were immediately sent back," he said. The police organised around 15 meetings with parents and fishermen, throwing light on the Juvenile Justice Act and the punishment if any minor was found working for them. When contacted, Dinesh Tandel, president of the Mumbai Boat Association, said that they were complying with the orders.
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