Seven armed men robbed a Punjab National Bank (PNB) branch at Gariahat of nearly Rs 6 lakh on Tuesday, soon after it opened its doors to employees and customers .
In terms of both daring — a weekday swoop a few yards from the local police station in one of the busiest city centres — and damage — almost Rs 6 lakh, crossing the Rs 4.5 lakh robbery in 1997 at a Hazra State Bank of India branch — Tuesday’s heist left the police flummoxed.
Surprisingly, despite a similar operation having been carried out at the same branch in 2001, when Rs 1.5 lakh was stolen, no security guard had been posted at the gate. Bank officers later said the Ballygunge branch was a ‘low-risk’ one in and around the city. “Our bank has 15 securitymen for all 80 branches,” PNB Officers’ Association secretary Swapan De said.
The armed goons blew the low-risk tag to bits on Tuesday. Speaking a mix of Hindi and Bengali — and, alternately, using tones that were threatening and coaxing — the gang of seven, armed with revolvers and daggers, entered the Ballygunge PNB branch (between Gariahat and Gol Park) on foot, at around 9.45 am.
It took them around 30 minutes to clean out the vault of exactly Rs 579,670. They fired nothing but a few expletives, before strutting off with their loot, and losing themselves in the mid-morning Gariahat crowd.
“There was one youth who looked Nepali,” deputy commissioner, detective department (II), Pradip Sanyal said. “It could be an inter-state gang, working from Bihar or Jharkhand. We have asked our district counterparts to keep an eye on the inter-state borders,” he added.
The PNB branch opened its doors a little before 9.45 am. Fifteen employees — and around 10 customers — entered the bank and were followed by a group of well-dressed youth, clad mostly in T-shirts and trousers.
Soon after entering the bank, the group made its intentions clear. The alarm-bell was disconnected from the circuit and telephone lines were yanked off. Revolvers and daggers were brandished to herd bank staffers and customers into two corners.
“Sar mat uthana, apne parivar ka soch (Don’t raise your head, think about your family),” was the threat fired at bank employee Subash Porel, when he got fidgety. An assistant manager of the bank was then asked to hand over the keys to the vault. As he pointed to the head cashier, who had the keys, both were shepherded to the vault.
There, the two officials were made to take out the cash and then stuff it into a gunny-bag. Mission accomplished, the gang walked out, towards the Gariahat crossing, leading investigators to suspect they hit the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass.