Madhya Pradesh's Morena district, which was once home to notorious dacoits and is now infamous illegal sand mining, has been witnessing a baffling trend- that of regular theft of buffaloes for 'ransom'.
This year, 23 cases of buffalo thefts for ransom, which in local dialect is called 'panhai', have come to light so far in the district, which comes under the Chambal division, a police official said.
The modus operandi of the thieves is to quietly untie the bovine from its owner's place and run away with it.
While escaping, the thieves spread a plastic sheet on the ground to prevent the animal from leaving hoof marks and getting traced by police.
The thieves then seek ransom, about 25 to 30 per cent of the cost of the animal, from its owner with the help of middlemen, sources said.
There have been complaints of buffalo theft from several villages in Morena in the recent past, a police official said.
"I have asked police to promptly register cases of buffalo theft and take immediate follow-up action so that the middlemen don't get a chance to settle the thefts for cuts (ransom)," Superintendent of Police Asit Yadav told PTI.
Asked about the rise in such incidents in Morena, Yadav said, "No buffalo thief will be spared."
According to some locals, at times buffaloe owners do not report the theft to police or anyone, fearing that if people around come to know about it, their reputation may take a beating.
Morena-based social activist Ran Singh Parmar said unemployment was the major reason behind 'panhai'.
He said such incidents were not just confined to Morena, but prevalent in Bhind and Sheopur districts as well.
"A stretch of 200 to 300 km by the side of Chambal is affected by this menace," he claimed.
There is a need to generate employment for people of Chambal region, said Parmar, who has been working for the rights of poor and downtrodden since last four decades.