Slick pickpockets shrug off Blueline phaseout, turn to Metro

The pickpocket, in fact, honed his skills on Delhi's gloriously chaotic public transport system. He practised his craft on the ill-famed Blueline buses. But with his preferred area of operation being phased out, he has now turned his attention to the Metro.

"These men are too smart. They have changed their modus operandi. Unlike in Blueline buses, they now turn up all suave and stylish. While operating on the Metro, they are aware that look matters a lot," a senior police officer told IANS on condition of anonymity. But why the Metro and not the low-floor Delhi Transport Corporation buses?

Police officers say working on these new buses has a practical problem - since the doors are shut and can be opened only by the drivers, the pickpockets cannot make a quick getaway by jumping off a running bus - as they used to do earlier. Besides, the Metro is more crowded, making the job that much easier.

The Delhi Metro, meanwhile, has received 42 pickpocketing complaints so far this year.

"Around 42 pickpocketing complaints have been reported so far and almost one-third of them have been solved," the police officer said.

The pickpockets work in groups of five to six people. Sometimes, they spot a target right at the station.

"These men block your way at a crowded station in such a way that you will not know when they have picked your pocket," said Amit Kumar, an assistant manager at a multinational company.

His words of wisdom are a result of his encounter with one such pickpocket earlier this year when he was robbed of his expensive cellphone at the Central Secretariat Metro station.

"These men start talking to you, and while you are in conversation they, on pretext of leaning down, steal your purse or mobile in a matter of seconds," said Dhananjay Singh, who too is a victim.

The pickpockets have another factor in their favour - the lack of Metro police stations. "If you are travelling to Indira Gandhi International (IGI) Airport and suddenly realise your wallet is missing, don't bother to lodge a complaint. Because the airport Metro police station functions from Kashmere Gate station, some 40 km away," said Amit.

Four Metro police stations were set up after the Commonwealth Games last year, but due to a space crunch, they could not be set up at their proposed spots.

The Yamuna Bank Metro police station, for example, is housed at Shakarpur police station in east Delhi, while the Kalkaji Metro police station is at Kashmere Gate. Another four Metro police stations were added later, but they too are housed in the old stations.
This is something the pickpockets are aware of when planning their strikes.

"Crucial time is lost by the time the victim reaches us. The chances of cracking the case diminishes with passage of time. It would be better for the public as well as police if we could get proper space for functioning," the police officer said.

According to sources, Delhi Police have written several times to the Delhi Metro to ask for space, but nothing has materialised. And the real estate companies which are building malls and restaurants around Metro stations are reluctant to part with prime land.

When contacted, a Delhi Metro spokesman said he could not comment on the issue as he was not authorised to speak on security matters. And in the midst of this official tussle, it is the common man who has to pay the price.

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