ATM thieves in Punjab are breaking new ground every day. On December 4, 2013, they used a JCB in Muktsar to uproot a Punjab and Sind Bank automated teller machine in broad daylight and took out Rs 4.6 lakh; but 15 months on, remain untraced.
Town’s deputy superintendent of police Kanwalpreet Singh has confirmed there’s is no clue yet. Days after that crime, a Canara Bank ATM at Jassi Chowk, Bathinda, was dragged out of the cabin with the help of a vehicle. Along with Rs 86,000 cash, the burglars also took away the machine.
On May 27, some people kidnapped ATM cash loader Manoj Kumar in Faridkot district and emptied the State Bank of Patiala and Punjab National Bank machines at Bargari, Jaito and Sadak of Rs 19 lakh. There’s no headway in this case, too.
Punjab’s ATM theft spree in the past one year has put a question mark on the law and order in the state. The police lethargy has emboldened the looters, who have become more innovative. In October last year, the Ferozepur police arrested a gang that had ripped open ATMs in Amritsar, Jagraon, Guru Har Sahai and Ferozepur with gas cutters and taken away Rs 34 lakh. No all ATM burglars are so well trained and prepared. Gurdaspur school dropouts Ranjit Singh, Zorawar and Ajay Kumar were caught at Shahpur in Dharamsala district of Hiamchal Pradesh in their fourth failed attempt after their city and Sujanpur (Pathankot).
Police chiefs put on alert
Additional director general of police (law and order), Dinkar Gupta said the matter was so serious that he had sent an advisory to the district police chiefs about the urgent safety measures required. “The SSPs (senior superintendents of police, who are district police chiefs) are holding regular meetings with the bank officials. Banks have deployed own guards at the ATMs and the police also have stepped up patrolling,” said the ADGP.
Pathankot SSP Rakesh Kaushal said both organised and unorganised gangs were involved in the crime. “They target the ATM on the weekends mostly, when there is little hustle and bustle. Generally, they go for the secluded ATMs when these are unguarded,” he added. In many cases, they are known to have overpowered the guards as well.
Gurdaspur SSP Gurpreet Singh Toor said the thieves were mostly young men without gainful employment, or poor or lower middle class youth who wanted easy money. “We found in interrogations that they followed the lifestyles of the rich on the social media but wouldn’t do the hard work to get there,” added Toor.
Common ATMs proposed
Higher ATM security will push up bank costs, and customers may have to foot the bill. Banks would like the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to reset the ATM-installation guidelines. “Instead of having round-the-clock ATMs for every branch, the RBI should ask the banks to have common ATMs,” said Sunil Bhasin, Punjab National Bank chief manager in Chandigarh, adding: “This way, it will not burden one bank to fund the security of its ATMs. Also, if the RBI stops charging consumers after three transactions, it will help banks pool money for ATM security.”
Cost of security
Protecting any ATM round-the-clock requires three guards, who work in rotation and are together paid Rs 26,000 every month. Besides, the bank has to install inside the cabin a 24-hour online surveillance camera that costs Rs 10,000 roughly.
Ground action: After the association of various banks came out with new guidelines for ATM security recently, the machines would now be grounded more firmly to make uprooting difficult
Software: Since the ATMs are online invariably, a new software is being developed that would alert the bank and the police simultaneously in case of a theft or burglary attempt.
Hidden eye: Banks propose mounting of surveillance cameras even outside the ATM cabins to capture the details of the getaway vehicle and other clues.
The money in the ATMs is insured, so banks consider it not worth a fight back; and the police don’t take these incidents seriously since rarely there has been a loss of life.
Total attempts: 162
Cash stolen: Rs 2.92 crore
Cases cracked: 59
Public-sector-bank ATMs in Punjab: 3,701
Private-bank ATMs in Punjab: 999
City ATM burglaries
Tarn Taran 9
Source: Punjab Police and State-level Bankers Committee (SLBC)