//`Biscuit bandits' strike at will

`Biscuit bandits' strike at will

Robberies committed by gangs in moving trains after `drugging’ passengers pose a grave problem, says R. Rajaram

When Ardhanari, an old man from Thanjavur and his wife boarded the Kurla-Madurai Express at Pune a few days back, they hardly had any reason to suspect that their journey would turn out to be a nightmarish experience.

The couple, on their way back home after meeting their son at Pune, were found in an unconscious state when the train arrived at Tiruchi. Two more Tiruchi-bound women passengers travelling in the same compartment were also found in the same condition. All four were gullible victims of a gang, which drugged them in the moving train and made away with their belongings midway.

The recent incident has once again brought into limelight robberies committed by gangs in moving trains after `drugging’ passengers. Modus operandi

Notwithstanding awareness programmes by security agencies and posting of Government Railway Police and Railway Police Force on board trains such crimes continue to occur. The modus operandi of the gangs seems to be the same: the culprits travel as bonafide passengers and identify their `targets.’ They befriend them and win their confidence. At the opportune time, they give some eatables laced with chemical substances to their `targets’ making them unconscious before decamping with their valuables.

The eatables they give to gullible passengers are varied. From cream biscuits laced with strong sedatives, from which the "biscuit bandits" term came to be coined, to cool drinks, tea and even bananas.

Government Railway Police sources reveal that the three-member gang travelled in the same compartment in which Ardhanari, his wife Shanthi, and two other victims, Lakshmi (80) and her daughter Prema (53), travelled. The culprits, who were all young, had boarded the train from the originating station and had taken a ticket to Madurai. They spoke Tamil, English and Hindi and befriended Ardhanari who had even shared food with them during the journey. When the train was running between Gooty and Guntakal, the trio gave their victims tea. Once the `victims’ became unconscious, they stole gold jewellery weighing 32 sovereigns from the couple besides a laptop and another five sovereigns from Prema and Lakshmi. The incident came to light after the `victims’ who were admitted at private hospitals in Tiruchi regained consciousness nearly 12 hours after the crime occurred.

A similar incident in the same train occurred a few months ago, when two Tiruchi-bound women passengers were drugged and valuables stolen from them near Renigunta. Most of these crimes took place in Andhra Pradesh. Though cases were registered by the GRP here in both incidents, it was subsequently transferred to Guntakal and Renigunta respectively as the crimes were reported in that jurisdiction. The time and distance gap before the crime is reported provides adequate time for the culprits to make good their escape.

The GRP and the RPF had been making efforts to sensitise passengers on the need to be cautious and refrain from consuming eatables given by strangers. The RPF and GRP have posted escort teams in long distance trains. Yet it is imperative that passengers be more alert.