A 32-year-old man who had been stealing empty plastic milk trays kept outside shops in north Chennai was caught in the act on Saturday. A group of traders nabbed him when he tried to flee with 90 such trays kept in front of a fruit shop on Tondiarpet High (TH) Road at M.R. Nagar in Kodungaiyur.

The police said K. Sarathkumar, a resident of Periya Sekkadu in Manali, was loading the empty trays in his minivan at around 2 a.m. when he was caught by the owner of the shop, S. David.

“Before closing my shop around 9 p.m. on Friday, I had kept the empty trays outside my shop. Every other shopkeeper along the stretch does the same every day. Usually, I go to the shop at around 4 a.m. when the milkman comes to deliver milk packets. But, on Saturday, I went earlier and found someone loading the trays,” said David.

Immediately, David alerted other traders who were around, and they nabbed the thief. Before the Kodungaiyur police arrived at the spot, some of the traders, who had lost trays on earlier occasions, rained blows on Sarathkumar.

According to the police, during the day, Sarathkumar worked in a vegetable shop located on the stretch. Over the past two years, he had regularly visited neighbouring shops and taken note of the number of empty milk trays kept outside at the end of the day. He then rented a minivan from Manali, stole the trays and sold them to traders at the Koyambedu wholesale market.

“Even the beat policemen did not suspect him as it was usual for traders to load and unload such trays during the early hours,” said a police officer.

While each tray costs around Rs. 600, Sarathkumar sold them at Rs. 100 each. He stole at least 150 empty trays at a time to make a profit, the police said.

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