The multi-crore Gohana bank robbery might have all the makings of a Bollywood thriller, but it’s a glaring example of how small-town people succumb to the lure of making big-time money.
The mastermind of the robbery was taxi driver-turned property dealer Mahipal Banwala (53), who owned the building near the Punjab National Bank (PNB) branch along the old bus stand. The building was lying abandoned due to an ongoing legal dispute.
Gohana resident Davinder Kumar said Mahipal, a native of Kasandi village in Sonepat district, used to work as a taxi driver on a meagre salary of Rs 700 per month more than a decade ago.
“Uska dimag computer ki tarha chalta tha, pata nahi kaise taxi driver say taxi stand kar liya aur ab teen kothiyan hain... aur gaon mein bhi achha ghar banaya (His mind worked like a computer. One wonders how after starting off as a taxi driver, he went on to own a taxi stand and three multi-storeyed buildings, besides a house in the village).”
How gang was formed
Mahipal roped in five youths in their mid-twenties to execute the robbery -- Satish Duhan, Rajesh Duhan, Balraj Duhan, Surender and Arvind Kumar. Mahipal and Satish were associates in the real-estate business. Satish told him that he was desperate to make a fast buck. No less desperate, Surinder and Balraj said they could do anything to end their “tote ke din” (Haryanvi expression for days of losses).
Mahipal’s plan was simple: dig a tunnel from under the unused building to reach the bank’s strongroom, break open the lockers, and decamp with valuables back through the tunnel.
How plan was executed
According to the police, Mahipal had a locker in the PNB branch. He repeatedly did a recce of the place and measured the distance from the unused building to the strongroom in the old-fashioned way – with footsteps.
The special investigation team (SIT) chief, deputy inspector general (DIG) Vivek Sharma, told HT that on Mahipal’s directions, the four youths dug up an 80-ft-long tunnel from under the abandoned building by using farm implements made of iron.
Sonepat senior superintendent of police (SSP) Arun Singh Nehra said the arrested accused had confessed to their crime. They told the police that they had started digging the tunnel about 50 days ago. The accused reportedly disclosed that this was their third attempt to rob the bank in the past six months. First, they tried from the rear side and later from the roof of the bank building, but abandoned the plan both times as they found it too risky.
The police stated that since the bank strongroom’s floor was 2-3 ft below the ground level, it became easier for the culprits to reach there.
“After entering the strongroom, they broke open the bank lockers using simple mechanical tools. They then filling the gold and silver jewellery in two sacks and decamped with it in the wee hours of October 27. Later, they hid the booty at an abandoned brick kiln,” a police officer said.
How case was cracked
As per the police, the plywood boards used by the robbers to cover the windows of the unused building provided vital clues. Printed on the boards was the name and address of the shopkeeper. Inquiries at the shop were followed by questioning of Mahipal. He did not reveal anything to the police, and was let off. However, his phone calls were monitored, which brought to light his conversations with the other accused. The tracing of calls made by the co-accused led to their arrest.
‘No hi-tech heist’
Haryana director general of police (DGP) SN Vashisht and others who visited the spot had said that the finesse with which the robbery was carried out suggested the use of technology. However, the local police have denied this theory.
A police official said on the condition of anonymity that Mahipal, along with the youths repeatedly did a recce of the bank building before putting the plan into action. And all that they used were farm tools, no gadgets.
With inputs from Rajesh Moudgil