Jamtara: The Crime Capital of India
After a long-form of research and analysis, we have come up with a very interesting place. The quiet railway station in the heart of Karmatar, i.e., Jamtara, derives its name from one of the country’s most significant social reformers. Still, today hardly anyone seems to be aware of the link between this location and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. The boy stayed for 18 years, taught girls in a stuffed classroom, and distributed home medicines were only a few hundred meters from the railroad station in Vidyasagar.
From various, sources we got to know about some of his stories are still lying here, but the location of Jamtara that should have been a tourism attraction, does not draw tourists these days. Instead, this little town in Jharkhand’s Jamtara district is often frequented by police from various countries: it has emerged as one of the biggest cybercrime centers in the whole country.
As we checked and explored the records at the Karmatar Police Station, they show that between April 2015 and March 2017, police teams from 12 different states visited the Station 23 times and detained about 38 of the accused. Between July 2014 and July 2017, more than 80 cases were reported by the Jamtara District Police against 330 residents. At Karmatar police station alone, the number of arrests in 2017 was over 100.
Cases and Seizures
As per our research, there are hardly any signs of progress on the 17-km road from Jamtara District Headquarters to Karmatar. The road itself, which runs parallel to the railway line, is dotted with huge potholes. The only thing that caught the eye in this semi-urban environment with a population of around 2,000,000 is the dozen cell phone towers erected in the fields on either side of the road.
These are the towers that hold the secret to Jamtara’s infamy. With half a dozen LED TV monitors and two soft black sofas—one of them right next to the lock-up cell—picking up dust, the newly built Karmatar Police Station looks, unlike the others. Brand-new vehicles—both SUVs—and more than two dozen bicycles, all of them confiscated, are parked inside the station complex.
A reporter on a news platform claimed that in one of the dimly lit rooms inside, an officer goes over a handwritten note, oblivious to an informant’s constant efforts to attract his attention to a tip-off about the illicit liquor being sold elsewhere. It is a lawsuit from a man detained in a cybercrime case claiming human rights violations.
Krishna Dutt Jha has been in charge of the police station for the last eight months but finds it difficult to keep a count of the articles confiscated. “How many sofas have been seized this year? “He questions one of his junior officers.
“Three of them, Sir. Two air conditioners and 12 refrigerators, too,” comes to the response from our research. As we analyzed, Jha starts to count again: 70 LED TVs, three washing machines, 40 ATM cards, 80 bank passbooks, 200 cell phones, and 9.28 lakh cash.
Speaking of the latest arrest he made, Mr. Jha says that 99,500 had been removed from an individual in Sambalpur, Odisha. Pradip Mondal and Pradyuman Mondal were arrested in the Karmatar area on 15 July in a joint operation between the District Police and the Odisha Police Unit.
On 5 August, the third suspect, their cousin Dukhi Mondal, a truck driver, was arrested. The money allegedly siphoned off from the Odisha bank account by the two brothers was parked in their cousin’s mobile e-wallet and used to buy fuel from petrol pumps.
Around 12 km from Karmatar Police Station is Narayanpur Police Station, another place where several cyber fraud cases have been reported in the recent past in Jamtara. Packages of liquor confiscated in a search the previous night are lined up near the local police station building entrance. Police station registers offer a vortex of uncertain numbers, SIM cards pointing to theft using e-wallets.
Most of the cybercrime complaints, such as those at Karmatar, have been registered by the police station in charge. The charges are essentially the same: Section 419, Section 420 of the IPC (cheating by impersonation and adultery), Section 468 and 471 (forgery for cheating and using forged document as accurate), Section 120B (crime conspiracy), and Section 66B, Section 66C and Section 66D of the Information Technology Act. Senior police officers reported that the first incidents of online fraud linked to smartphone recharge in 2011.
A group of young people who had gone to work outside the district of Jamtara had learned the trick of recharging their phones without ever paying, and they had made some quick money. A few years back, incidents of siphoning money from bank accounts by manipulating financial data came to the fore. Some police officers term the activity “phishing.” Still, Jaya Roy, the Jamtara Superintendent of Police (SP), claims it is simply “vishing” to obtain access to a person’s private financial information by pretending to be on behalf of a bank or financial institution.
She says the tricks that local teens, mainly school and college dropouts, use to dupe people are not very difficult. “They call people posing as bank officials under some excuse, say, connect the Aadhaar number to the bank account and ask for the details of the card. Often they also advise you not to give the ATM PIN and say, ‘We’re sending you an OTP from the bank, and you need to check the OTP number.’ Unfortunately, even educated citizens are convinced and duped,” says the SP.
No stranger to crime
Located in the Santhal Pargana area of Jamtara, which was demarcated as a district in April 2001, it has also been vulnerable to crime in the past. “People were interested in wagon-breaking earlier; there were stories of train passengers being drunk and duped. This is how the essence of crime has grown,” Roy says. It does not help that the literacy rate of the Jamtara district, with a population of approximately 7.91 lakhs, is 64.59 percent and that the number of non-workers is 58.71. The district economy depends mainly on agriculture.
Despite these abysmal figures, the existence of easy money is evident here, as demonstrated by the numerous mobile phone towers, branches of all major public and private banks, and the mushrooming of two-wheeler showrooms in the city. In Karmatar, a hamlet of huts a few years back, more concrete houses are being constructed than in the district headquarters. “How can you persuade people who don’t have any other forms of employment? What else is going to give them this kind of earnings? “Mr. Roy raises a rhetorical question.
Crime also appears to be infectious—the 22-year-old Diwakar Mondal, a confessional which was arrested on 11 March 2017, claims that he, along with his cousin Mithun Mondal, collected false SIM cards and began to engage in cybercrime after “aas-paas ke log cyber thuggee kar ke amir ban gaye (people around us have become rich by indulgent in cybercrime).” In the statement, Diwakar admits setting up mobile SIM cards with false identities and bank accounts under various names.
Talk of the town
At the Jamtara Bar Association complex, defense lawyers argue that the Jamtara district court should not give bail to the arrested because of the impression that cybercrime has reached disturbing proportions. Mondal, one of the most sought-after cybercrime defense lawyers based in the heart of Jamtara Town, is busy as early as 8.30 a.m. Janardan Mondal, the perpetrator, was one of the first to arrive.
He says that he served as an agent for a non-banking deposit collecting firm in the district and vigorously disputed the accusation of stealing money from someone else’s account.” At Karmatar, we were the first to get a motorcycle. But then someone in the community named Janardan—much younger to me—dumped a minister from Delhi, and the police came knocking on my door in February-March 2014,” he says.
As Janardan hangs about, a middle-aged man with an arm sling drops down to ask the prosecutor to demand parole for his younger brother, who is behind bars. “Please see these papers to arrange his bail,” pleads the client. “Arre, tum log badmash to hai (You guys are bad for sure),” says the advocate, whispering to me, “The middle-aged man’s brother is an ATM master (a term used for cybercrime indulgent).”
He adds that the number of internet fraud cases is on the rise. “I shouldn’t divulge this, but take a look at it,” he says, referring to the indictment—a senior police officer has been duped. Outside the lawyer’s chamber, the guy in the arm sling has a vigorous conversation about how cyber-fraud cases have given the city a bad reputation. “It’s hard to get our daughters married,” he says.
Cybercrime reports of Jamtara have reached mythical proportions; it is not uncommon to hear at almost every corner of the city how boys have duped people from various parts of the world, targeting politicians, senior government officials, and well-known celebrities. Pujya Prakash, Jamtara Subdivisional Police Officer, holds a big hand-drawn map in his office, marking every cyber incident. “There are many, who after being granted bail, return to their tricks. The returns in this sector are even better,” he says.
The Modus Operandi
Local police stations have avoided issuing residency evidence certificates—required for government jobs—to those convicted of cybercrime. A ‘cyber police station’ to keep a watch on these crimes is also on the cards. Yet police officers insist that even provisions of the Information Technology Act are insufficient to combat cybercrime’s organized existence.
“The cottage industry has developed in Jamtara,” says a senior officer with the Delhi Police E-fraud Investigation Cell, outlining the modus operandi. He claims thousands of unemployed young people are engaged in collecting large quantities of phone ID SIM cards to trick naive ATM cardholders. Almost all e-wallets, such as Paytm, are used free of charge. One deduction from an ATM card goes to one e-wallet and immediately to five or six other e-wallets, and eventually to a bank account, from which ATMs instantly deduct it.
African learning and doing fraud from Jamtara
DCP (east) Chander Mohan said that initially, OLX-based frauds were mainly reported from Mewat. Still, now they are getting reports of all kinds of cyber scams, including those related to debit/credit cards, mobile wallets, or clients. “The region has emerged as the new ‘Jamtara’ of cyber fraud,” the DCP said, adding that such crime thrives in areas with numerous national borders.
“Telecom providers have various tower networks with different nations. The police often use the network to map the positions of cell phones. In tri-junctions, there is a dark spot or no man’s land for a mobile network,” he said.
Fraud money is distributed through various payment methods, which thus complicates the investigation. Highlighting the loopholes in the scheme, a senior police officer, preferring anonymity, said that unlike the US, which has a charging system in effect, the nation allows card payment and payment by mobile wallets, however legislation to safeguard such payments has never been placed in place. “Fraudsters take advantage of such loopholes and drive money through multiple gateways, leaving no trace of transactions,” the officer said.
Investigation and conviction of these cases are much more complicated. It is reported that just 20% of cyber complaints are translated to FIRs. The police make arrests in 20% of cases, but the claimant does not press the matter. The arrest rate is dim, and those who are arrested are punished for a few months but are then given bail. “All this encourages people to commit such frauds,” he said.
In the last few months, the lockdown has been serving as a trigger for such gangs. Between April and June of this year, more than 3,000 cyber fraud cases were reported in Gurugram. For the same time last year, the figure was less than 2,000. From calling for donations to the PM Cares Fund to robbing people in the name of home distribution of liquor—the gangs have come up with new, creative ways to trick people. In certain cases, Covid-19 has also been given treatment.
Stressing on awareness, ACP Karan Goyal said, “It’s best to stop clicking on any links. Don’t slip into some KYC trap over the phone, and don’t exchange banking or card information.”