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Crime in Chennai

Children in slums are vulnerable to crime because of their poverty and illiteracy. Juveniles in such areas should be prevented from becoming members of criminal gangs through various welfare programmes.

ORGANISED CRIME is on the rise in Chennai. Recent murders in the city have either been a fallout of inter-gang rivalry or mercenary killings. In the last few months at least five prominent gangsters were slain. A social worker was murdered recently in broad daylight and in public view. According to reports, the victim had mobilised public opinion against local goons and reportedly paid the price for it.

Recent killings have shown that gangsters are not just organised, but meticulous in their operations. It also gives an indication of the extent of planning that goes into the execution of a crime.

One need not be surprised. This writer's doctoral thesis on `Organised crime — a study of criminal gangs in Chennai,' studied 59 criminal gangs and 341 criminals who share 1351 police cases between them. The study revealed that gangs have hierarchy, territorial limits, and strike strategic alliances. Coupled with his personal experience in dealing with many of these gangs as Deputy Commissioner (North Madras) several years ago, it was an eye-opener on the shady underworld of Chennai.

Chennai may not be as bad as Mumbai, where the mafia has a large presence. It is a fact though that many gangs have emerged in Chennai in the last few years. These gangs indulge in various crimes like mercenary killings, robbery, theft, dacoity, bootlegging and drug peddling.

Mercenaries: Mercenary gangs comprise hardened criminals, who murder for money and undertake criminal jobs like assaulting, disfiguring, maiming, and kidnapping of people. They loot and destroy property on assignment and their fee depends on the nature of the job and the number of persons employed to carry out the task.

These gangs have organisational structure, territorial limits and a code of conduct. They possess unlicensed arms and ammunition. They use the latest communication gadgets to stay in touch with each other. They monitor the movements of the police and also their rivals. The gangs hold periodical performance evaluation and review meetings, in true corporate style to keep its members on their toes. The gangsters do their homework thoroughly and shadow their target for days before striking.

A lot of planning goes into a killing. Broadly, there are three stages of operation involved, namely surveillance, planning, organising and execution. The methods employed could be straight or ingenious. It could be shooting, stabbing or a hit and run. Total secrecy is maintained during the killing and gangsters generally wear masks to conceal identity and do not address each other by names. When they are not killing, these gangsters go as henchmen behind politicians, or caste groups or trade unions to supplement their income. These gangsters resort to kidnapping, extortion and bootlegging also.

Theft: The gangs involved in committing offences like theft, robbery and burglary are equally well organised and have separate `departments' for purposes of surveillance, planning, organising and execution. The gangs have informers for collection of information, executors to conduct operation and middle agents to dispose of the stolen property. Auto drivers, taxi drivers, servants and servant maids are retained as informers. These gangs also engage some of their informers in banks, markets and cash rich places. For example, the gang would strike on receiving information that the occupants of a house are away or that there are only elderly occupants, who are soft targets for housebreaking.

Prostitution: Prostitution is well organised and finely networked, though there are still individual operators and streetwalkers, who fetch clients from the roads. One good example of well-organised prostitution is brothel dens. At the helm of affairs in these brothels is a `madam,' often a woman who is the in-charge or manager of the brothel house. Other characters at the brothel are pimps, procurers and prostitutes. It must be admitted that police and other law enforcement agencies have contributed to some extent in safeguarding the business.

Bootleggers and drug traffickers: The main activities in bootlegging involve distillation, transportation and marketing. The top brass of the gang decides on the quantity to be distilled or procured depending upon various factors such as the heat turned on by police at a given time. A group of strong men gives protection at all levels from the distillation point to the selling units and also during transit and transportation of the illicit goods. Smaller gangs usually outsource protection.

The drug gangs operate in three layers, with the top layer comprising key members of the gang keeping themselves away from the frontline staff. The high level group, which consists of the leader, assistant or the second in command and patrons of the gang, involves itself in planning, organising, expansion and diversification of their illicit enterprise. The middle level group, which consists of the personal informer of the leader, procurers, distributors and the personal guards, works directly under the command of the headquarters. The lower level sells the drugs. Arrest of these men alone is not enough to bust the racket.

Recommendations

The following are some suggestions to control organised crime in Chennai:

1. A separate wing should be created exclusively to deal with organised criminal gangs. The wing should have separate units with expertise on investigation, intelligence, reformation and computer technology.

2. A separate Act may be enacted in Tamil Nadu on the lines of the Maharashtra's Control of Organised Crime Ordinance 1999. This should have tough provisions like death sentence, life term, minimum fine of Rs. 5 lakhs, permission to the police to intercept wire, electronic or oral communication admissible as evidence against the accused, long term of custody than provided in Cr. P.C.

3. All cases should be tried quickly and the accused should be imprisoned at the earliest. For this purpose, a court exclusively to deal with organised crime should be established.

4. Most witnesses do not depose before the court out of fear of the gangs resulting in acquittals for hardened criminals. Heavy security should be given to witnesses during the period of trial and also in its aftermath. In-camera recording of witness statements by the special judges should be provided in the new Act.

5. The acquisition of properties, and assets by the criminal should be verified then and there. The Customs, IT authorities and Enforcement authorities should be made to take action simultaneously. Investigation should expose investments of the criminals in various fictitious and proxy names.

6. The criminal-politician nexus should be broken. Communal patronage to criminals should be exposed.

7. Sources of income of the gangs by illegal activities should be curtailed by taking quick and prompt action on the illegal activities such as sale of weapons/arms, forcible eviction of tenants, extortion, etc.

8. Community policing should be organised in the neighbourhoods where theft, robbery and dacoity occur frequently.

9. Children in slums are vulnerable to crime because of their poverty and illiteracy. Hence, crime prone slum neighbourhood areas should be identified and juveniles in that area should be prevented from becoming members of the criminal gangs through various welfare programmes. For this purpose the existing `Boys Clubs' scheme should be revamped and implemented effectively.

C.K. GANDHIRAJAN

Deputy Inspector General of Police, Railways, Chennai

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