MATHURA: A gang of thieves has stolen oil worth more than Rs 100 crore from a pipeline of state-owned Indian Oil Corporation Ltd (IOCL) here. The thieves had been operating smoothly for the past one-and-a-half years until the police unearthed a well-oiled interstate racket and arrested four persons on February 17. Twelve others are still absconding.
The racket involves petrol pump owners, politically-connected individuals and police officers from Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi.
Police are also questioning the officials of Mathura Refinery, commissioned in 1982 to meet the demand of petroleum products in the north-western region of the country, including the National Capital Region.
They have also written to IOCL and the Petroleum Ministry, recommending a vigilance inquiry. Sources said phones of several refinery officials have been placed under surveillance and their call details will be checked.
This was not the first case of oil theft; at least eight such cases have been registered in the past two-three years at different police stations of Mathura and adjoining areas. Police said that several gangs are involved in theft.
In the latest case, police have discovered the role of some petrol pump owners and a local village head.
The gang also involves an engineer as his expertise was needed in stealing oil from high-pressure refinery pipeline.
Inspector general of police, Agra zone, Sujeet Pandey said, “More arrests have to be made as it is a large-scale loss. The culprits will be booked under the provisions of stringent laws, including Gangster Act and NSA. Many big people are involved, and I am personally monitoring the case.”
The police expressed its inability to quantify the worth of the oil stolen since the investigation is in its initial stage and many accused are still absconding, informed sources while claiming that the amount would easily cross Rs 100 crore.
An IOCL statement, however, stated that the quantity of the pilfered oil is not very large. “IOCL officials are cooperating fully with the police in the case and it welcomes investigation in case of any evidence against any of its employees,” added the spokesperson.
An investigation revealed that the gang members had been plotting the crime for about two years.
First, they purchased a plot in the ATV Colony situated down the National Highway that passes through Mathura city.
The Mathura-Jalandhar pipeline from which oil was stolen passes through this colony.
They constructed a room on the plot, owned by one Ravi Chaudhary who was arrested on February 17.
The gang members started digging a tunnel from inside the room to connect with the pipeline which was running about 100 metres away from the room.
“The pipeline runs 15 feet deep under the surface and they constructed the tunnel at the same level so that it could connect to the pipeline. They had installed lights and fans to provide air and lighting inside the tunnel,” said Virendra Singh, an investigator from the Highway Police Station.
To execute the theft successfully, the gang hired experts. Police said mastermind Ram Hari Chaudhary, a local village head who has been arrested, had paid `18 lakh to five people from Faridabad; one of them, identified as Chetan, is an engineer.
Sonu, Ravi, Mistri and Gaima, led by Chetan, completed the tunnel work in about three months. They dumped the surplus soil on nearby vacant plots.
About 100 tankers were pressed into service to transport the stolen oil from the pipeline to different petrol pumps.
While Manoj Goyal, an absconding accused, owns several petrol pumps in Agra and other places in Uttar Pradesh, another accused, Tarvinderjeet Singh, who has been arrested, also owns two petrol pumps.
“It is clear that it is a very organised racket which has been going on for a long time. Chassis and registration numbers of tankers and vehicles have been found forged. It is linked with Faridabad, they purchased a plot in Mathura, oil is being sold at Agra and other places,” IG Pandey said.
Initial investigation has revealed that they used to sell oil in tankers to other petrol pumps in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan.
“There is a lot to find in the case but it is certain that the racket was spread in many places. Most of the oil was sold at Agra pumps. They also sent tankers to places such as Hathras, Etah, Mainpuri,
Bharatpur, Ghaziabad, Bulandshahr, Noida and Delhi. There could be many more places,” said a police officer.
They operated only after 10-11 pm and filled around 10 tankers daily. Some members of the gang also escorted the tankers in their personal vehicles to help at police check-posts.
The needle of suspicion points to refinery employees since drawing oil from the high-pressure pipeline is not possible without their help.
“The gang got regular information from the control room of the refinery. Connecting pipes to the high-pressure pipeline through a valve is not possible without the help of an insider,” said a
It is a single pipeline, which runs from Mathura to Jalandhar, and diesel and petrol pass through it in regular intervals. The gang members had information about the particular fuel that passed through it at a given time. Accordingly, they filled the oil in different tankers.
An IOCL official said the company has taken several measures such as day-and-night patrolling, round-the-clock online monitoring of pipeline pressure and flow conditions, installation of leak detection systems, surprise patrolling by senior officers, etc.
It is also seeking the help of the local administration and police to curb pipeline tapping and pilferage.