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Jatin Anand, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, December 18, 2011
They thought their problems were over when they nabbed the ‘uncrowned king’ of Delhi’s juvenile delinquents after a reign of close to half a decade in south Delhi early this year. But even after Sanju, the leader of the dreaded ‘burn-and-burgle gang’ — now an adult — that had a penchant for burgling government employees’ flats before setting them ablaze, was arrested as soon as he turned 18 this February, the Delhi Police’s troubles are far from being over.

“The previous year had been punctuated with a handful of apprehensions of juveniles most of whom were petty thieves addicted to smack and belonged to Sanju’s gang,” said a senior police officer.

“This year, however, not only have more juveniles, whose number ranges between 50 and 75, been apprehended — most have been found to be involved in heinous crimes.”

According to the police, at least five juveniles in conflict with the law were apprehended every month till November this year — but this time, they were found to be involved not just in arson and petty theft but even kidnapping for ransom, armed robbery and rape.

An analysis of both the motives and the range of previous criminal involvements of the apprehended lot, sources admit, points to one thing — juvenile delinquency in Delhi has entered the murkiest of waters. On December 7, a man was arrested and two were juveniles apprehended for allegedly raping a 15-year-old girl in east Delhi’s Ghazipur area.

Late last month, three juveniles were detained for murdering a 50-year-old scrap dealer at the Toll Plaza in Gurgaon on November 23.

On November 4, a 16-year-old delinquent was apprehended two hours after he had allegedly kidnapped a toddler from west Delhi’s Khayala. This incident was reported days after a juvenile and one of his minor associates was apprehended in northeast Delhi for killing a 25-year-old woman who had spurned the former in love on October 17.

“Sanju’s gang was somewhat loosely-knit and remained to perpetrating relatively less serious crimes such as snatching, burglary and motor-vehicle theft. They were usually found to be small-time pickpockets addicted to smack and not hardened criminals,” the officer said. What has worsened things for the police, senior officers admit, is the ‘unique’ status of these young delinquents before the law — something that organised criminal gangs are using to their own advantage.

“Gangs — especially those indulging in petty crime, are recruiting more and more juveniles because they can’t be jailed. Whenever they are caught, they are sent to an observation home where they cool their heels for some days before escaping and getting back to street crime,” the officer said.