In an incident that seemed right out of a heist movie, thieves broke open the roof of a parcel van attached to the Salem-Chennai Express and stole Rs. 5.78 crore cash, which was part of a consignment of soiled currency being transported by the Reserve Bank of India for destruction. The theft was detected several hours after the train that left Salem on Monday night arrived in Chennai Egmore early on Tuesday.
Incidentally, a team of armed police personnel, led by an Assistant Commandant, escorted the van and were in the adjoining compartment.
Police said a rectangular hole measuring around 2ft by 1.5 ft was drilled on the roof of the van that contained 226 wooden boxes of soiled but usable currency totalling Rs. 325 crore. The train, comprising 19 coaches, including three parcel vans, left Salem at 9 p.m. on Monday and arrived here at 3.57 a.m. The parcel vans were detached from the rake and moved to the yard. The theft came to light around 11 a.m. when workers entered the van after the seal of the compartment was opened by RBI officials in the presence of police personnel. Currency kept in four boxes was found stolen.
The Railway Protection Force registered a case and launched a massive investigation with the assistance of the Tamil Nadu police. Investigators have no clue as to where or how the theft took place. The possibility of the thieves drilling a hole in the moving train is not being ruled out, though the suspicion is that they made their way into the cash van before it was attached to the train at Salem Junction or after it was detached from the rake in Chennai Egmore.
“In case the suspects drilled a hole while the train was on the move, it would have happened between Salem and Vriddhachalam, a distance of 138 km, where there is no electrification of rail lines. It is also possible that they managed to sneak into the cash-laden coach before it was sealed for departure and used gas cutters to escape en route. We are probing all angles...surveillance camera footage recorded in Salem and Chennai Egmore railway stations are being perused,” a top police officer told The Hindu .
Asked how the hole escaped the attention of the escort police, the officer said police inspected the seal affixed on the door of the coach at every stoppage.
“We usually don’t check the roof as it is a solidly built van. The train has 12 scheduled stoppages between Salem and Chennai Egmore and police teams are looking for clues at all those railway stations,” he added.
Interacting with journalists, V. Ramasubramani, Inspector General of Police, Government Railway Police, said four boxes were forced open. While one box was emptied, half of the cash in another was taken. The thieves had also picked some notes from the other boxes that had currency notes of lower denomination.