In barely 90 seconds, four masked men robbed an unguarded Punjab National Bank (PNB) branch of Rs 15 lakh around 3.45pm here on Monday. This Jawahar Nagar Camp branch is in a crowded area 200 metres from the Kochar Market police post.
Six employees and a customer were inside the first-floor bank office when the raiders barged in firing in the air. They first beat up customer Ankush Chaudhary, who had come to deposit cash. Two robbers stayed in the lobby, with one of them firing more warning shots and the other pointing a gun to the cashier’s head from over the counter. The third held the manager captive, while the fourth got behind the cashier, Rajiv Suri, and took him at knifepoint.
The cashier surrendered a bag containing Rs 15 lakh that a customer had deposited a few minutes ago. One of the robbers put the cash in his backpack. This is when a woman customer walking in noticed what was on and rushed downstairs to raise an alarm. By the time anybody could respond, the gang was gone. Asked why he did not press the security-alarm button, bank manager Ramesh Chawla said he had panicked and received no time to react.
The absence of security guard made the crime a cakewalk. The robbers got away on two motorcycles, taking a narrow lane to the back road, even though its usual traffic must have delayed them and given police some time to catch up.
Police commissioner Jatinder Singh Aulakh and his deputy, Dhruman Nimbale, inspected the scene of crime and checked the security-camera footage of the armed men. Forensic experts gathered a .32-bore-revolver shell from the spot and found that bullets had created a big hole in the ceiling. “The four robbers included a turbaned man,” said Aulakh.
Bank was warned
Police don’t rule out the involvement of bank employees in the crime. Division Number 5 station house officer (SHO) inspector Beant Juneja had cautioned the bank many times to appoint a guard, even written to it in December 2015. Even a spate of ATM burglaries have failed to teach banks caution. Of Ludhiana’s 800 ATMs, almost a half remain unguarded. On July 1, police commissioner Jatinder Singh Aulakh had also warned the banks. In 2010, inspector Maninder Bedi, then SHO of Division Number 8, had first warned a bank repeatedly to deploy a guard and, finally, downed its shutters for half a day to force it to hire security.