T.N.-Kerala border stretch of NH 544 continues to be preferred turf of highway robbers, carjackers

Updated - June 18, 2024 07:11 am IST

Published - June 17, 2024 08:36 pm IST - COIMBATORE

A group of armed men attacking a Kerala-bound car near Madukkarai on the Salem – Kochi Highway.

A group of armed men attacking a Kerala-bound car near Madukkarai on the Salem – Kochi Highway.

The attack by a group of armed men on a Kerala-bound car near Madukkarai on Salem – Kochi highway (NH 544) in Coimbatore district in the early hours of June 14 is not an isolated incident.

A 40-odd km stretch of the highway between Walayar and Neelambur (where it joins Avinashi Road) has been a favourite spot for carjackers and highway robbery gangs. Police officers who have served in stations with jurisdiction covering the highway said gangs targeting businessmen, families and persons carrying unaccounted cash and hawala money have been reported in the past.

“The police get to know about very few cases wherein the affected persons were not involved in any illegal activities. Others do not report to the police,” said a police officer who previously worked in one of the stations covering the highway.

These men follow the same modus operandi of the infamous ‘pottikkal’ (destruction) gangs in Kerala that target and snatch smuggled gold and hawala money from carriers and rival gangs.

In one of the cases in December, 2020, a group of men attacked a businessman from Malappuram in Kerala and his friend at Navakkarai on the highway and took away the car. Though the car owner initially stated that the car had ₹ 27.5 lakh cash, the vehicle was found abandoned after a day. Suspecting hawala deals, the police checked the car and recovered ₹90 lakh more, which were hidden in two secret chambers. Thrissur-based men were arrested in the case.

In another incident reported in 2018, the target was a family. A four-member gang waylaid the car of a businessman from Guruvayur in Thrissur district that was on its way to Kerala at Ettimadai bridge. The robbers threatened them using iron rods and robbed them of 60 gm jewellery, ₹2,000 and a mobile phone.

Police officers said several other incidents of car chase and robbery attempts have also occurred on the highway in the past.

In the recent incident that took place near Madukkarai toll plaza on June 14 morning, it was the presence of mind of Ernakulam native Aslam Siddique, 27, that saved the lives of his staff Nithin and Akshay and his friend Charles. Siddique, who is into advertising business, was returning with the three others from Bengaluru when the highway robbers waylaid their car in the early hours.

“We did not notice the attackers until they came close. It appeared like they came from a road linked to the highway,” Mr. Siddique said.

Coimbatore District Superintendent of Police V. Badrinarayanan said the police have got leads about other men involved in the attack. Four Palakkad-based men, including youth who had been serving in the Indian Army, were held on Sunday. The men targeted the vehicle, assuming that the passengers carried a large sum.

“We have increased the number of highway patrol vehicles on the stretch between Neelambur and Wayalar from two to four,” he said.

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