The multi-crore octroi evasion racket being probed by Sewri police involves underworld gangsters such as Chhota Rajan, Arun Gawli and Ashwin Naik, who operate under the umbrella of top Mumbai politicians from various parties, according to police sources.
A key member of the Chhota Rajan gang, who plays a crucial role in ensuring that octroi evasion continues, was an accused in a high-profile murder case in the city and later turned approver.
So strong is the nexus that honest octroi officials are forced to keep mum and let the scam perpetuate, fearing threats to their lives from underworld gangsters and their political masters, the sources claim.
The police are also investigating if BMC officials, specifically those in the octroi department, are involved, as their probe has revealed that the department has not hired any authorised agents for the past 10 years. The tariff card has also not been updated for the past 10 years, though the prices of goods have increased manifold. Pratap Dighavkar, additional commissioner of police (south) said, “We are probing the involvement of officials within the department and the losses suffered by the state exchequer.”
Police sources said that underworld gangs allocate a certain number of vehicles at each octroi checkpoint in Vashi, Mulund and Dahisar, and operate in association with transporters under their domain.
The role of unauthorised agents was revealed when the Sewri police arrested four of them over the past month. Their interrogation revealed that for a truck carrying 15 to 20 tonnes of goods, for example, a crooked agent would produce a receipt that claimed it was carrying only 300kg. The presence of the word ‘saheb’ on some octroi receipts has led the police to suspect that politicians are involved.
The Sewri police believe at least 11 more crooked agents and octroi officials are involved in the racket. Three cases, under sections 420 (cheating), 468, 471 (forgery) and 34 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) have been registered against them. Three of the 11 have moved court – unsuccessfully – for anticipatory bail.
“The octroi evasion racket is being investigated from all possible angles and proper action will be taken against those who are found to be involved,” said Krishnakumar Chavan, deputy commissioner of police, port zone.
BMC commissioner Ajoy Mehta did not respond to calls for comment. Dr Sanjay Mukherjee, additional municipal commissioner, referred Hindustan Times to deputy municipal commissioner Milind Sawant, who did not respond to calls or messages.