Taking advantage of the dense fog and the near absence of security, robbers broke open two ATMs (automated teller machines) of Punjab National Bank (PNB) in the district in the wee hours of Wednesday and fled with more than Rs 23 lakh. The robberies came to light in the morning. A sum of Rs 14.95 lakh was looted from the ATM at Bhunga and Rs 8.12 lakh from the Kandhala Jattan ATM.
The timing and the close proximity of the two bank branches indicate that the same persons were involved. Tyre marks at the site indicated that the robbers came in a car. They sprayed screens of the monitors and CCTV cameras with a dark substance before damaging them. With the help of gas cutters, they broke open the cash boxes and decamped with the cash. Shutters of the ATM chambers were smashed.
The camera of the Bhunga ATM stopped working at 4.04 am, while that of Kandhala Jattan remained operational till 4.53am. CCTV footage at Bhunga showed that two persons with muffled faces had entered the premises. Due to a fault in the system in the other branch, a technical team was called from Chandigarh to retrieve the electronic data.
Neither of the banks had deployed any security guard to protect the ATMs despite similar incidents having occurred in two other PNB branches early this year. An amount of Rs 18.35 lakh was looted from the ATM at Nanda Chaur in June and Rs 9 lakh from Sham Churasi in January. Both cases remain unsolved.
The police said there were three nightwatchmen on duty in the market at Kandhala Jattan on Tuesday night but they claimed not having noticed any disturbance.
Superintendent of police (SP, detective) Jagmohan Singh claimed that night patrolling was carried out in rural areas, but inquiries revealed that no such exercise was undertaken on Tuesday night.
When contacted, PNB circle head VK Bhatia said there were no guidelines from the bank headquarters about hiring of security personnel. He, however, added that it was also the duty of the state police to provide adequate security around such commercial institutions.
Meanwhile, senior superintendent of police (SSP) Narinder Bhargav said a special investigation team, including the superintendent of police (SP, detective), deputy superintendent of police (DSP, rural) and DSP (Tanda), had been constituted to probe the incidents.
"We have found some important clues and we are hopeful to nab the culprits soon," he claimed. Brushing aside allegations of a security lapse, he said the robbers took advantage of the dense fog.