They targeted passengers travelling in unreserved compartments

The colour of a scarf, the make of a hat — these hints helped the government railway police (GRP) nab a gang of thieves on Saturday.

Aided by the descriptions provided by a 54-year-old woman passenger who lost her jewellery aboard the Allepey–Dhanbad Express in February, the police apprehended the notorious inter-State gang that targeted passengers in the unreserved compartments of express trains on the northern route. The stolen jewellery was also recovered.

On Saturday, GRP arrested 24-year-old S. Suresh, a resident of Bangalore, and the other four members of his gang. They also seized 15 mobile phones, a washing machine, a gold ring, a refrigerator and a bike, from their possession.

The seized articles were bought with the money the gang members stole from train passengers. They had robbed passengers of nearly Rs. 2.5 lakh since last year.

The other arrested are N. Babu (23), a resident of Tiruvottiyur, A. Pradeep (28), a resident of Kathivakkam, A. Md. Baijul (26), a resident of Gummidipoondi, and S. Rajesh (25), a resident of Nellore.

“I lost three gold rings and a chain on Dhanbad Express recently. One moment, the man was chatting with me, and next, I realised my valuables were missing. It was then I saw him detrain at Basin Bridge station,” said Sengalvaraya Swamy, the complainant, who was travelling in an unreserved compartment.

Based on her clues, the police prepared a sketch of the accused and four special teams led by R. Arumugam, inspector general of GRP, launched a hunt for the gang. The sketch was also circulated among the railway police in the four southern states.

The special teams visited various places and also travelled on express train along the route. According to the police, the gang members initially operated individually on the Chennai Central-Gummidipoondi line. They worked as small-time vendors at suburban railway stations where the express trains halted and engaged in petty thefts.

Subsequently, they got acquainted with each other in the course of their activities and decided to operate as a gang.

“Two of the gang members — Suresh and Babu — were involved in three train robbery cases in Andhra Pradesh. The like-minded thieves decided to join hands,” said A. Kayalvizhi, superintendent of GRP.

According to the police, the gang members disguised themselves as part-time vendors, cleaners and loadmen, and studied commuter behaviour, rush and security on trains.

The lack of police presence and the knowledge that most passengers, especially ticketless ones, would be wary of filing complaints for lost valuables further emboldened them, said deputy superintendent, V. Ponramu.

In some instances, the gang cheated passengers claiming to be ticket examiners and threatened them with dire consequences if they didn’t part with their valuables/cash as fine, the police said.

More than 40% of the crimes aboard express trains take place in unreserved compartments. Of these, 90% are chain-snatching and pickpocketing cases.

The gang arrested on Saturday was the first such group that operated exclusively in unreserved compartments of express trains. Each express train, on an average, has at least four unreserved compartments. Southern Railway operates at least 60 trains on the northern route every week.

INFOBOX

MODUS OPERANDI

The members of the inter-State gang operated individually before befriending each other during their criminal acts on trains

1. The gang operated on Express train routes and at railways stations in Chennai and its outskirts

2. Disguised as part-time vendors, cleaners and loadmen, they observed commuter rush and security on trains

3. They targeted crowded unreserved compartments for two reasons:

a) most passengers, especially ticketless ones, are wary of filing complaints for lost valuables, b) lax security

4. In some cases, the gang operated as ticket examiners and threatened passengers with dire consequences if they didn't hand over cash/valuables as fine

5. Almost 90% of thefts were instances of chain-snatching and pickpocketing

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