Top 5 bank robberies in India


Let’s recall the biggest and boldest robberies that have taken place in India in recent times

India bank robbery

Top 5 bank robberies in India. Source: shutterstock.com

If you think that bank robberies today can be seen only on movie screens, you’re deeply mistaken. Of course, the times of the famous Wild West outlaws have long gone. However, modern crimes in the banking sector are, in fact, much more common than in the olden days. Besides, they are more lucrative with millions of dollars put at stake.

In India, RBI has continuously advised banks to strengthen their security features. However, the number of bank robberies and thefts in the country went up 65% during 2013-2018. Today, dealing with robbers is even harder since mandatory face-masks are good at hiding their identity whereas economic hardship is pushing many people to illegal ways of money-making.

Bank of Baroda, Juinagar, Navi Mumbai, 2017

This theft attracted the attention of global media due to the exquisite planning and painstaking preparations preceding the robbery itself. The criminal group rented a space next to the bank branch under the cover of running a small grocery store. The actual aim was to dig a tunnel leading to the bank vaults. The underground path was 25ft (8m) long. According to the police estimates, it took approximately 4 months to finish the digging works. As a result, 30 of the bank’s 225 safe deposit boxes were robbed during the weekend while the branch was closed. The total value of cash and jewelry stolen was Rs 3.43 crore.

Of course, such hard work could not be done by a single person. The police arrested as many as 11 offenders involved, including one of the main conspirators, Hazid Ali Mirja Baig, 47, within a few weeks. The quick arrests helped to recover around 3 kg of the estimated 11 kg gold stolen. However, it took local police a year to bring a few remaining suspects into custody. The Aadhaar card and other personal documents, which the prime suspect submitted to the landlord to sign a rent agreement, were fake. He also paid monthly rent in cash as any wire or cheque transaction would have helped identify him. As it appeared, the tenant was not a mastermind, as the robbery happened after his factual death.

His main role was to create an image of a reputable business for the promised remuneration. On the pretext of building a storeroom, the suspects brought several sheets of plywood and created a partition extending up to the roof. In reality, they were covering the entry point of the tunnel. Nineteen of the 30 locker holders who lost their valuables in a bank break-in sent a notice to the bank seeking compensation for deficiency in services. As police reasonably alleged, either a customer or an employee who knows the premises well should have provided the exact location of the locker room. Otherwise, the tunnel would not be so precisely targeted.

Banks in Odisha Capital Bhubaneswar, 2020

Two connected robberies of the Indian Overseas Bank and Bank of India branches were carried out by a 25-year-old businessman Soumya Ranjan Jena. The looted sum may be not as significant (nearly Rs 12 lakh) as the story behind it. The robber came up with the plan after he had suffered heavy losses in his business due to the lockdown and taken loans in the mentioned banks which he realized he was unable to repay. Police sources said his combined monthly EMI of both the loans came to around Rs 35,000. After robbing the Indian Overseas Bank, he repaid Rs 60,000 EMI due to the same bank.

Jena got the robbing idea from YouTube videos and was armored only with a toy gun during the first criminal offense. Experts say that a number of reasons prompt criminals to opt for toy guns. To begin with, they instill the same fears in victims and are easier to obtain. At the same time, criminals won’t be tried under the Arms Act and won’t kill anyone with these props even unintentionally. Strange as it may seem, toy guns are not uncommon “weapons” in the hands of Indian criminals. In Delhi alone, there have been at least 14 recorded instances of dummy firearms being used in crimes, ranging from bank robberies to street crimes during the last two years. Moreover, two of the last four bank robberies in the national capital involved toy guns.

State Bank of India (SBI), Amreli, Gujarat, 2018

Rs 1.35 crore was stolen from the strong room of a State Bank of India (SBI) branch on Saturday, September 1st, 2018. Bank employees reported the crime only on Tuesday when the institution opened after the holidays (Janmashtami). The alarm didn’t go off since nobody broke or even opened the strongroom’s door. Instead, the burglars made their way to the bank’s core facility by breaking in from a small ventilator. The ventilator apparently opened into an abandoned building earlier used by the Central Excise department. This building is conveniently situated right behind the bank. CCTV footage showed there were three persons with their faces covered with handkerchiefs and wearing gloves. They stayed inside the bank for at least 1 hour and 10 minutes.

South Malabar Gramin Bank Chelambra branch, Malappuram district of Kerala, 2007

Although over a dozen years have passed, this robbery remains one of the biggest and most sensational bank robberies in the crime history of India. At the time, a well-organized criminal group escaped with cash and gold that totaled to an estimated amount of over 80 million Indian rupees. The robbers made a hole in the floor of the South Malabar Gramin Bank and got away with 80 kilograms of gold and 2,500,000 rupees. The bank was situated on the second floor of a building, whereas the ground floor was up for rent. The restaurant, that functioned there before, was closed. Hence, the criminals rented the location pretending that they are making renovations. Instead, they made a hole in the ceiling and got access to the money storage. Then, they cracked down the safes using a gas cutting machine.

According to police officials, the criminals had purposely left one kilogram of looted gold in a hotel room in Hyderabad and made telephone calls from many different cities of India to mislead the investigation. However, the identification of a secret phone number used by the main suspects to communicate between themselves became the turning point. The police finally tracked the accused, arrested four people, and recovered 80% of the stolen gold and money. The court awarded 10 years of rigorous imprisonment to the three accused in the Chelembra bank robbery case. The fourth one, the wife of one of the criminals involved, was sentenced to five years of rigorous imprisonment.

The leader confessed that the crime was inspired by the Bollywood movie Dhoom. Meanwhile, the sensational incident itself later inspired other criminal offenders. Clearly, establishing a bank on the second floor in India is not a good idea. The bank robbery at the Kasargod Vijaya bank in Cheruvathoor (2015) followed the same pattern. As a result, 19.50 kg gold worth nearly Rs.4.87 crore and Rs.2.95 lakh in cash was stolen via a drilled hole in the strongroom’s floor. The thieves impersonated the workers who want to start a new business on the ground floor. Of course, they used fake IDs to mislead the investigation. However, within one week of the robbery, the mastermind got arrested and the entire quantity of gold worth Rs 4.50 crore was recovered.

Salem-Chennai Egmore Express, Tamil Nadu, 2016

Perhaps, the most spectacular and movie-like robbery involved the Salem-Chennai Egmore Express moving train. The bold robbers broke open the roof of a railway coach which was being used by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to transport money from Indian Overseas Bank, Salem, to Reserve Bank of India in Chennai. Namely, the train was carrying over 200 chests of used and damaged banknotes with a total value of 3.4bn rupees ($51m). The criminals traveling on the roof-top of the moving train stole ₹5.78 crore. The theft was only discovered when the train reached its destination, although the security personnel guarding the money were in the neighbouring compartment.

Unlucky robbers were not even able to spend the stolen cash in full, as, within three months of the robbery, the demonetization of 500 and 1,000 rupee notes happened. After the arrest, the criminals disclosed they had to burn notes worth about ₹2 crore after the demonetization took place as they could neither spend the money nor deposit it in the banks. Nevertheless, they had bought immovable properties for ₹1.78 crore, in their native villages in Madhya Pradesh.

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