Mumbai lockdown: Black marketing, thefts on a high amid need for liquor

Updated: Jul 14, 2020, 19:36 IST | Diwakar Sharma, Samiullah Khan | Mumbai

Cops also in talks with civic body to remove COVID-19 banners, posters that provide cover as burglaries happening in areas that are regularly patrolled too

CCTV grab of the burglar at the Kandivli wine shop
CCTV grab of the burglar at the Kandivli wine shop

The unavailability of liquor amid the COVID-19-caused lockdown has resulted in several crimes in the city and its nearby areas as people try to procure it by hook or crook. Sources in the police told mid-day that several people, some of them first-time offenders, have been arrested recently for trying to acquire liquor illicitly. As a result, there has been a rise in theft cases at liquor shops in and around Mumbai.

In another instance, a BEST bus transporting country-made liquor from Nalasopara to Sion was held by Palghar police. The driver was carrying country-made beer cartons, whiskey and wines, which were meant to be sold in Sion when the sale of liquor was suspended in mid-May.

The wine shop in Kandivli that was broken into
The wine shop in Kandivli that was broken into

Deserted city an opportunity
Deserted roads, lanes and markets amid the lockdown are idea ground for burglars and thieves to operate. Police officers said that burglars have broken open shutters of liquor shops to enter. In addition, banners and posters to spread awareness about COVID-19 displayed outside shops are acting as shields for thieves.

The lockdown has also triggered an increase in the black marketing of liquor and wine, aided by the fast connectivity provided by WhatsApp. Black marketeers are also selling all brands of gutka and cigarettes. "Word of mouth among the close network has aided the spread of these nefarious activities. We have been working relentlessly to curb these networks in Mumbai," said an officer attached to the cyber cell of Mumbai police.

A wine shop at Malad that was broken into
A wine shop at Malad that was broken into

Break-ins rampant
The Malabar Hill Club, a stone's throw away from Hanging Garden, had a break-in on May 7. A thief, or thieves, broke into the club, which has been shuttered since the lockdown began, and stole a number of liquor bottles from the club's The Ridge Bar located on the first floor.

CCTV cameras show the crime occurring at around 3.30 am. It was discovered later and the police were alerted.

Accused Mahavir Singh Kumavat and (right) Manish Sarkar who broke into Raj Wine Shop
Accused Mahavir Singh Kumavat and (right) Manish Sarkar who broke into Raj Wine Shop

A few days later, the National Sports Club of India (NSCI) reported that foreign liquor worth over R15 lakh was missing from its premises. A police officer said that the stolen wines and liquor are sold in black.

On July 2, two burglars broke the shutter of Raj Wine shop at Dahisar check naka and decamped with liquor worth R3.80 lakh in a four-wheeler. "The burglars had also damaged the surveillance cameras but the DVR was untouched. The CCTV footage was preserved and its grab was circulated among nearby police stations and commissionerates," said a police officer.

A WhatsApp chat with a black marketeer
A WhatsApp chat with a black marketeer

Last week, Manikpur police in Vasai managed to crack the case when they noticed a car familiar to the one used by the burglars at Raj Wine shop. Two accused, Mahavir Singh Kumawat, 33 and Manish Sarkar, 35, were held.

"The lockdown is an ideal time for burglars to target wine shops. Kumwat is a history-sheeter with 24 cases of house breaking and theft (HBT) registered against him at different police stations. They are residents of Naigaon and Nalasopara. After stealing the wines, both had been selling it among tipplers looking for liquor in the Vasai-Virar stretch," said the officer.

Late at night on July 2, Chandreshwar Wine shop in Kandivli West was also broken into. "The shop is located near Kandivli railway station. This area used to be very busy before the lockdown. The accused took 1.5 hours to cut the shutter of the wine shop because there was no movement of people on the road. Had there been no lockdown, the incident would not have happened. They decamped with R5.90 lakh in cash and wine bottles from the shop," added a police officer.

"In a bid to avoid getting traced, the burglars took away the computer but the hard disk was is safe. Three men were involved in the crime," said the officer.

Another shop, Wine Well, at Chincholi Bandar in Malad was looted of R11 lakh cash. "The wads of cash were kept in the counter after three days of liquor sales. There were also coins weighing nearly 40 kg but of course, they did not take those because of the weight and noise," said a police officer attached to Malad police.

"The shop is located on a road where night patrolling is regularly conducted but the burglars managed to break the shutter. The banners and posters for COVID-19 awareness displayed all over the city helped them dodge the patrolling team," he added.

mid-day has learnt that police officers are in talks with the civic body to remove such banners and posters.

In Kasarvadavali, Thane, Anmol Wine Shop was broken into late on June 21. The thieves made away with cash and wine worth R8 lakh. Four people were arrested in the case on July 3.

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