Chasing gangsters in a pandemic: Covid curbs hamper crackdown, big fish evade police net

As Punjab grapples with the Covid-19 pandemic, gangsters are roaming around with impunity, striking at will, keeping the state police force on its toes. The police continue to chase them not only in Punjab, but other states also.

ON MAY 10, a narcotics police team in Khanna intercepted a car for a routine check. The man in the passenger seat got out and swiftly overpowered the policeman who approached to frisk him. A scuffle ensued. Meanwhile, the driver took out a gun and pointed it towards the other policeman on duty before they snatched a weapon from police and fled, taking a U-turn on the one-way road and driving in the wrong direction.

As the incident sent alarm bells ringing, Punjab Police later realized that the man who had overpowered the officer on duty was one of the state’s most wanted gangsters Jaipal. A senior officer said police recovered a driving license from the spot, and found that it was under a fake name, but the photograph turned out to be that of Jaipal when it was passed through facial recognition using Punjab Police Artificial Intelligence Tool (PAIS).

Five days later on May 15, Jaipal and his accomplice Jaspreet Jassi — who police believe was behind the wheel of the Hyundai Aura in the May 10 incident — shot dead two assistant sub-inspectors when they started to question them at Jagraon grain market following a tip-off.

As Punjab grapples with the Covid-19 pandemic, gangsters are roaming around with impunity, striking at will, keeping the state police force on its toes. The police continue to chase them not only in Punjab, but other states also.

Earlier this year, Punjab Youth Congress leader Gurlal Singh Bhalwan was shot dead in Faridkot on February 18 by suspects linked to jailed gangster Lawrence Bishnoi.

The murder was alleged to have been planned by Canada-based Goldy Brar, a key associate of Bishnoi, to avenge the killing of his cousin Gurlal Brar, a former president of the Students Organisation of Panjab University. Brar was killed outside a mall in Chandigarh Industrial Area in October last year.

Last month, Moga police arrested Beant Singh, the shooter of Bishnoi’s rival Bambiha gang, who allegedly shot Brar dead.

In the Bhalwan murder case, on February 21, Delhi police arrested three persons, followed by the arrest of another accused by Punjab police next day, and another arrest in the case in early April from Himachal Pradesh in a joint operation involving Punjab and Himachal Pradesh police.

Jaipal continues to evade arrest

As far as Jaipal is concerned, police had launched a manhunt after learning about his movement on May 10. But when police got a tip-off about suspicious activity in Jagraon grain market on Saturday, they did not know it could be Jaipal, said a police officer, adding that suspecting the intercepted man was likely to be Jaipal, ASI Bhagwan Singh tried to click his photograph on his mobile phone, which is when Jaipal fired at him.

“The second ASI, Dalwinderjit Singh, did not carry a weapon and tried to duck. But he was shot by Jaipal’s accomplice Jaspreet. It all happened in seconds,” said the officer, who did not wish to be named.

Police were learnt to have got vital information about the modus-operandi and lifestyle of Jaipal, following the arrest of his brother Amritpal Singh Bhullar and another gangster Gagandeep aka Gagan Judge in 30 kg gold robbery case of IIFL branch in Ludhiana in February 2020. Jaipal had orchestrated the robbery. As per an officer, Jaipal was “very shrewed, kept abreast with every possible method to evade arrest, read novels, watched Hollywood thrillers, avoided using electronic gadgets and avoided any confrontation with police as far as possible.” On Saturday, when two ASIs were shot dead, the officer said, Jaipal was wearing a turban and sported a beard. “He keeps on changing his appearance,” added the officer.

Jaipal Bhullar, whose father served in Punjab police, was a national-level hammer thrower before he was booked in a case around nine years ago in Ferozepur, where he lived. He got bail in the case, but by that time had come in contact with dreaded gangsters in jail. He has been on the run after allegedly killing rival gangster Jaswinder Singh Rocky in Parwanoo in 2016. In 2017, he allegedly looted Rs 1.33 crore from a cash van of Axis Bank in Banur. He currently faces several cases of murder, dacoity etc.

While Jaipal continues to evade arrest, the Organised Crime Control Unit (OCCU) of Punjab police in a joint operation with Mohali police and Jharkhand police arrested his close aide Gavi Singh from Jharkhand. On May 8, police arrested five associates of Gavi and made recoveries of a contraband of heroin, pistols and vehicles. As per Punjab DGP Dinkar Gupta, Gavi’s interrogation revealed that he had smuggled over 500 kg of heroin, alongwith weapons from Pakistan and supplied into Punjab, Delhi and Jammu & Kashmir, over the last two and a half years.

‘Covid guidelines a challenge to police’

A senior police officer said Covid guidelines like wearing of masks and maintaining social distance were making their job of going after gangsters difficult.

Punjab police crackdown

Since the formation of Congress government in Punjab in March 2017, the Organised Crime Control Unit (OCCU) of Punjab police has arrested at least 12 gangsters and neutralised five others who were of ‘A’ category. A total of 27 gangsters put under ‘B’ category were arrested and one neutralised. On June 12, 2017 two ‘A’ category gangsters Jaspreet Singh aka Jumpy Don and Kawaljit Singh aka Banti Dhillon were neutralised in Sirsa district. Two other dreaded gangsters Prem Singh aka Prema Lahoria and Harjinder Singh aka Vicky Gounder were killed on January 26, 2018, in Hindumalkot in Sri Ganganagar district of Rajasthan. Another ‘A’ category gangster Ankit Bhadu was shot dead in a locality in Mohali district by police on February 7, 2019.

The police also arrested 197 ‘C’ category gangsters and neutralised four others in the said category.

Nearly 1,700 firearms and more than 800 snatched vehicles were recovered. While police crackdown continues, apart from Jaipal, gangsters like Rinda, Harry Chatha, Gopi Ghanshampuria and Sunny Khawajka continue to evade arrest.

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