Gunfights have become more common between the police and criminals in the Capital. In the last three days, there have been three shoot-outs between police and criminals.(AFP/For Representative Purposes Only) Exclusive
Gunfights have become more common between the police and criminals in the Capital. In the last three days, there have been three shoot-outs between police and criminals.(AFP/For Representative Purposes Only)

Property feuds, extortion feed gangs of Delhi

  • Organised crime continues to thrive in parts of the Capital, and manifests itself in shoot-outs and calls for protection money
By Prawesh Lama, Soumya Pillai, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUL 20, 2021 07:13 AM IST

March 25, 2021: Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital, one of Delhi’s busiest government health facilities with a nearly 5,000 daily footfall, was abuzz with activity when gunshots rang around the building, and people outside the gate of the OPD building spotted a man running out with blood oozing out of his chest. Nearly 50 metres away from the gate, he collapsed. Almost the same time, another gunshot was heard near the main gate when two men threw a man and his wife off his bike and fled on the two-wheeler..

The police in their press statements have in past few years mentioned that Delhi gangsters extorted sums ranging from ₹10 lakh to ₹1 crore.
The police in their press statements have in past few years mentioned that Delhi gangsters extorted sums ranging from ₹10 lakh to ₹1 crore.

It was a carefully planned operation by two fugitive dons to help Kuldeep Mann alias Fajja, who was in the hospital that day, to flee police custody, investigators have said. At least 17 criminals, in separate teams, were present inside and outside the hospital premises for the operation, according to the charge sheet filed in the case. Fajja was brought to the hospital from Mandoli Jail by a police team for a check-up at the surgery OPD when the suspects attacked the police team. Though one was shot dead in the hospital, and another was injured, Fajja managed to escape on the robbed bike.

Less than 72 hours after the shoot-out in the busy hospital, police shot dead Fajja in an encounter in another gunfight -- this time at a residential apartment block in north Delhi’s Rohini, where the gangster was hiding in an associate’s flat. Fajja was named in 11 criminal cases, including five murders and three robberies, and was a key member of the Jitender Gogi gang.

Gunfights have become more common between the police and criminals in the Capital. In the last three days, there have been three shoot-outs between police and criminals. To be sure, not all of them involve those associated with gangs.

Sandeep Kala Jathedi, Neeraj Bawana, Kapil Sangwan, Jitender Gogi and Ashok Pradhan run one of the most notorious gangs active in Delhi. Except Jathedi and Sangwan, all others are currently in jail. However, the disclosures by the gang members, who are arrested in different cases, confirm that despite being behind the bars, these gangsters continue to run their activities, mostly extortion.

According to the police’s annual crime data, over 100 people filed complaints alleging criminals and gangsters threatening them for protection money in 2020. Last year, police registered 120 extortion FIRs, while the number in 2019 was 179.

This means, criminals and gangsters threatened at least 120 people asking for extortion or protection money. To be sure, the actual number of such people could be more because many complainants do not inform police and pay the money out of fear.

The police in their press statements have in past few years mentioned that Delhi gangsters extorted sums ranging from 10 lakh to 1 crore.

Land disputes and crime in Delhi’s wild west

Police officers who have investigated cases related to gang wars say that even though there are similarities between the Mumbai underworld and Delhi’s gangs, they differ in the fact that most of the Capital’s criminal groups have largely local interests. They added that due to constant pressure by the police, over the years, Delhi never had a big organised crime problem.

The officers said there are at least 20-30 big organised criminal gangs in Delhi, whose members are mostly from the city’s urban villages located on the periphery of the national capital.

When asked for specific examples, serving and retired police officers pointed out that Neeraj Bawana and Gaurav alias Monty, who was arrested last Friday, are the manifestation of the rise of the organised crime in Delhi. Both Neeraj and Gaurav are residents of Bawana village.

In 1996, the Supreme Court ordered shifting of small scale industrial units from Delhi’s residential areas to the villages such as Bawana and Narela. Retired government officials said that for shifting the industries, the government acquired around 1,865 acres in Bawana at an estimated cost of 7 lakh per acre. This meant overnight riches for the local farmers.

Arvind Kumar, a social activist in Bawana, whose family was relocated to the area in 2004, said, “When the government started buying land for industries, the original owners (village residents) became rich overnight. But for the industries that were shifted from the centre of the city to the fringes, the deal was not profitable. As failed industries started vacating the allocated plots, individuals and groups started using the opportunity to grab this land.”

Kumar said poorly implemented industrial zoning; some families becoming millionaires over night; many youngsters seeing an opportunity around them to make quick money and property feuds led to the rise of a real estate mafia.

Police officers say several local groups galvanised around their leaders, depending on their loyalty, and the property dispute they were related to.

“Many local criminals found it lucrative to extort money from traders who had set up factories there. All Delhi criminals such as Neeraj Bawana, Ashok Pradhan, Sandeep Kala Jathedi specialise in extortion. In outer Delhi, traders were asked what was famous as Neeraj Tax (named after Neeraj Bawana). When the factory owners refused to pay, they were threatened or shot dead. In such cases, when the factory owners leave the factory, the criminals use their muscle power to grab the property. And then they fight among themselves for the land,” a police officer, who asked not to be named, said.

Another senior officer who asked not to be named cited the murder of wrestler Sagar Dhankhad, in which two-time Olympic medalist, Sushil Kumar, has been arrested. He said the murder was a fallout of a dispute over a property in north Delhi’s Model Town area, adding that the case shows the deep connection between land and crime in Delhi. Though Sushil has not been linked with any gang, but Dhankhad was allegedly associated with Kala Jathedi, the police said.

Jailed, but no bar

In August 2015, two members of the Neetu Dabodia gang were travelling in a police van from the Rohini court to Tihar Jail. The other seven were from Neeraj Bawana’s gang, with the leader himself being present in the vehicle. As soon as the van left the court premises, the seven pounced upon the two and strangled them. Then, they stomped on their faces so hard that an eye of one of the victims gouged out. The alert van driver immediately took the vehicle to Mahavir Hospital on the outer Ring Road, where the two -- Paras Vikram and Pradeep Bhola -- were pronounced dead on arrival.

And the terror of these ganglords has not diminished over the years.

Recently, the police decided against shifting Sushil Kumar from Mandoli Jail to Tihar. The reason: Several members of Kala Jathedi gang are lodged in Tihar and the police felt that Sushil may not be safe there. The Intelligence Bureau also informed prison and police officers about a possible threat to him from another gangster prisoner, Lawrence Bishnoi, who came to prison after Kumar. Though prisoners have to spend 14 days in quarantine at Mandoli before being shifted to Tihar, the threat to Kumar was so high that Bishnoi was shifted to Tihar, away from Kumar’s cell in Mandoli, within a few days.

A prison spokesperson, said, “Tenders have been floated to install two body scanners on a trial basis. The idea was proposed in 2011 but it took time to get permission. Tihar will be the first jail to get such scanners. Prisoners will not be able to smuggle weapons or phones, once it is installed.”

The glamour of crime

Advocate LN Rao, a former deputy commissioner of police, who led many police encounters over three decades, said, “In the 90’s most criminals were from western UP. There were gangsters like Ranpal Gujjar and Brij Mohan Tyagi, who were based in UP. Today’s youngsters have realised how easy it is to make money by extortion. They then use social media to spread their name.”

Ashok Chand, a retired IPS officer, who headed Delhi police’s special cell and the crime branch, said,“We did not allow the Mumbai underworld to spread its tentacles here. The gangsters in Delhi in the 90s were mostly from western UP. Delhi had Kishen Pehalwan but even he did not have the aura that the current ones have. Delhi gangsters are being glamourised by the media. Maybe social media is also to be blamed for making heroes out of them.”

To be sure, in most cases it is the gang members themselves who eulogise their leaders on social media. Many of these have presence on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and even Twitter. They even have fan pages. Gangsters like Lawrence Bishnoi, Neeraj Bawana and Kapil Sangwan have multiple fan pages.

What the police say

A Delhi Police spokesperson said they maintain a close eye on the activities of various criminals and keep organised crime under check. “There are small local gangs operating in rural or semi-rural areas who indulge in fight among themselves. They may also indulge in extortion from small businessmen or traders to make easy money, but most of their gang leaders are behind bars. In fact their network of operation is very limited. Most importantly, ordinary citizens of Delhi are not much affected. We have arrested gangs operating in the name of Manjeet Mahal or Jitender Gogi or Dhillu gangs. 80% of all the gang members are now in various jails of Delhi NCR. Delhi Police does not allow organised crime to thrive.”

The special cell and special staff teams have been tasked with keeping a check on any form of organised crime, he said.

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