Gangsters win contracts to manage markets, parking lots, etc.

The police will write to all government agencies, chiefly the Corporation and the Travancore Devaswom Board, not to contract their work to persons with a criminal background.

City Police Commissioner Manoj Abraham said gangsters or their frontmen had won government contracts to collect daily rent from vendors in several municipal markets.

Such elements had also monopolised the contract to sell flowers and oil at some places of worship. The contract for the safekeeping of footwear and personal belongings of devotees for a small fee was also in the hands of the underworld.

Anti-socials elements also ran several paid parking lots, highway tollgates, and public toilets. Gangsters or their frontmen participated in the annual auctions for such lucrative tenders. Their presence intimidated legitimate competitors.

The police said most markets seemed to have become the fiefdom of gangsters. Such elements extorted money from traders, often under the pretext of organising festivities on religiously important dates.

They also used the markets to run their illegal moneylending trade and often appropriated municipal space to run their own businesses, such as selling tender coconut, without sanction or paying the government any rent.

Mr. Abraham said the police would ask government agencies to check the antecedents of their contractors with the police prior to awarding them important tenders.

Wetland reclamation

The police were also focussed on “cleaning up” the wetland reclamation business on either side of the proposed Kazhakutoom-Chakka IT corridor.

Criminal gangs profited from razing huge hillocks in the district and used the earth to fill wetlands for construction. The competition between the gangs, which owned fleets of dumper trucks and earth-moving equipment, had resulted in several gangland murders.

The police said it wanted to destroy the illegitimate sources of income of the apparently prosperous and powerful underworld.

Mr. Abraham said the police had listed 350 “mobsters” for immediate arrest. Many of them profited from extortion, illegal sand-mining, unlawful moneylending and wetland reclamation businesses. He said 38 of them were already in preventive detention.

The city police have also launched a drive to enforce the provisions of the Kerala Money Lenders Act, 1958. Settling of moneylending disputes at police stations was a major source of corruption in the force, perhaps a reason for lax enforcement in this area.

In the past one week, the police had arrested several underworld linked money lenders who extended “meter” loans, which required no collateral but quick repayment of the loan with a high rate of interest charged on an hourly basis. The loan sharks employed gangsters who ensured that the borrowers complied with their terms.

The police recovered signed blank cheques, promissory notes, and land deeds from them.

Investigators found that loan sharks often coerced borrowers to sign land sale agreements as guarantee for loans to show falsely on record that the loan was indeed an advance payment they had made for purchasing their client's land. The business fuelled crime and impoverished families, driving many to commit suicide.