|Driver Chhotelal being taken to hospital. |
Picture by Sanjay Choudhary
Ramashankar, TT, Patna, March 7: Five robbers who had looted Rs 25 lakh at gunpoint from outside a bank in Bodhgaya today were nabbed after an adrenaline-pumping chase by cops with bank staff and local residents pitching in.
The robbery itself was almost an action replay of the heist in rural Patna yesterday in which three criminals killed three persons and fled with Rs 60 lakh belonging to Punjab National Bank (PNB). Today as well, the gangsters targeted a vehicle that was moving cash from yet another PNB branch (Bodhgaya) to another (Etawah, around 30km away in the same Gaya district) in broad daylight.
The criminals, who were in a brand new Swift D'Zire car without a registration number, ambushed the Ambassador in which the cashier of the Etawah branch was travelling with the cash around 11am. When the Ambassador driver, Chhotelal, tried to speed away, the criminals shot at him. He was wounded and later in the day his condition was stated to be out of danger.
The robbers took the cash box at gunpoint, and sped away towards the Jharkhand border around 40km away.
The cops swung into action the minute the cashier Chandradev Choudhary and local residents tipped them off about the direction the robbers were headed. The message was flashed on wireless from the district control room, and the borders of the district were sealed.
Thus started a 35km road chase, with cops in bikes and cars and equipped with wireless sets on hot pursuit of the robbers.
At one point of time, a policeman chasing the criminals had to jump off the railway tracks just before a train hurtled by. The policeman had abandoned the car he was giving chase in because the gate of the Bandhua railway crossing on the outskirts of Bodhgaya had been shut as a precautionary measure.
"Such was the zeal of the cop that a local resident waiting on the other side of the railway crossing gave his own motorbike to the cop to chase the criminals. The policeman, who had a wireless set, kept sending messages about the direction of the robbers' vehicle and other details - such as the colour of the car and the number of occupants - to the police station on the way. The most noticeable thing about the vehicle was that it was new and had no registration number," said Saurabh Kumar, deputy inspector-general of police (DIG), Magadh range.
The robbers abandoned their car in a field beside the Gaya-Nawada road and fled on foot, the DIG told The Telegraph. A team from Fatehpur police station near the border of Nawada district, who had been given the description of the vehicle and the robbers, rushed to the spot less than 5km from the Jharkhand border.
Local residents also joined the cops running towards the gangsters. Encircled, the criminals had to surrender.
The arrested men are from Patna, Jehanabad and Bhojpur districts. Their car was purchased from a showroom in Ranchi, Jharkhand.
A senior police officer said: "Had the police reached the spot late, the criminals would have entered Jharkhand and vanished in the forests."
Gaya senior superintendent of police (SSP) Garima Malik pointed out that the police recovered the looted cash within one-and-half hours. "I must congratulate my team for its swift action," she added.
The DIG promised to look into why cash was being moved without any security cover and announced that members of the Fatehpur police team headed by its station house officer (SHO) Munnilal Dubey, which nabbed the robbers and recovered the looted money, would be rewarded.
Asked if the arrested criminals had any links with the fugitive gangsters who looted Rs 60 lakh from rural Patna yesterday, the Gaya SSP said: "We are trying to find out."
She added: "The car which was used in the crime (today) has also been recovered. Three illegal weapons, including a regular firearm (a 9mm pistol), which was used in the crime, have also been seized."
Police sources said the arrested criminals have confessed to their involvement in several bank loots in the state.
Last month, armed criminals had looted Rs 39 lakh from the Chanan branch of the State Bank of India in Lakhisarai. The police have failed to make any breakthrough in the case.
Chanan SHO Rajvardhan Kumar said the gang had been identified and raids were on: "It's just a matter of time. Wait for some days, we will show the results."
Also last month, motorbike-borne men had killed a security guard and a bank employee in Nalanda. Police later arrested two suspects and recovered Rs 40 lakh from them.
A senior officer posted at the state police headquarters did not rule out the involvement of Maoists in recent bank heists and attacks on bank cash vans. "They are in need of cash post demonetisation," the officer said.