Vigil has been stepped up at check-posts, reports L. Srikrishna

Highway robberies are on the rise in Madurai and its vicinity in the recent past. The robbers have been targeting heavy vehicles transporting expensive consignments such as copper and fast moving consumer goods.

Ten days back, the Madurai Rural Police received a complaint from a lorry driver that a gang assaulted him and escaped with the copper consignment along with the vehicle.

The gang took the driver and attendant in another waiting vehicle and after two days dropped them in a place in Pudukottai district.

The copper consignment, being transported from Tuticorin, was off-loaded at a place in Vellore district.

In another incident, a lorry driver, on reaching Madurai, realised that some miscreants had cut a small portion of the tarpaulin sheet and removed several cartons of consumer goods.

The theft was noticed at the time of unloading the goods at the dealer's godown near Kochadai. An investigating officer said that they are examining suspects who used to indulge in such thefts on highways.

In yet another case, a lorry driver, after stopped by a woman near Tirumangalam, was led into a secluded place well away from the highway where masked men attacked him and took away cash, valuables and mobile phone. He was also tied to a tree. Only after a few hours, the highway police rescued the driver.

Superintendent of Police Asra Garg said that they have secured the missing lorry from Nagamalai Pudukottai and a hunt was on to nab the robbers and also recover the copper consignment.

Meanwhile, in a bid to tighten loose ends, police officers in Tirumangalam, Melur, Nagamalai Pudukottai among other places around Madurai said that they had stepped up vigil at check-posts and also told the drivers to be on their guard while driving on highways.

The toll plazas, functioning round-the-clock on the highways, record the registration numbers of vehicles passing through them. This is being checked regularly, an Inspector of Police in-charge of Melur-Kottampatti stretch of the Madurai-Tiruchi highway said.

There is a proposal to install high-end surveillance cameras at specific locations.

Told to use ATM cards

For their part, many lorry operators have started providing mobile phones to their crew. It is also discouraging the drivers from carrying huge amounts of cash and instead giving the drivers or attendants debit cards to withdraw money from ATMs for fuel and other expenses during the journey.

Some of the fleet operators said they have advised their crew to keep off the highways between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. as a precautionary measure. The police officers in the respective sub-divisions are asked to interact with heavy vehicle operators periodically, Mr. Garg said.

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