Ravi Patel, 28, is a dairy farm owner in Gujarat’s Baroda city. On 7 June, a man who introduced himself as Shailesh approached him with an offer to purchase his cattle for dairy purposes. Ravi agreed to sell five of his eleven buffaloes for Rs 2 lakh.
Shailesh arrived in a truck and took the animals away. He paid Rs 80,000 in cash and handed a cheque for rest of the amount. The cheque was in the name of Badresh Patel, who Shailesh said was his client.
Shailesh had made a similar deal with Ravi’s neighbouring dairy a week earlier - five cows for Rs 240,000. Shailesh gave Rs 10,000 in cash along with a cheque. A week after Ravi, Shailesh made a similar deal with a third dairy in the same area.
In the dairy industry, it’s routine for buyers to take dairy farm loans from banks and hand over post-dated cheques to cattle sellers. The buyers take the cattle with them and invite the bank officials for identification. This is done by tagging the ears of the animals or tattooing them with indelible ink. Once this is done, the bank releases the loan in the buyers’ accounts. The sellers can then clear the cheque. The cattle are meant for dairy purposes.
In these cases however the cheques bounced. Soon, the three dairy owners discovered that they were duped.
This week, the dairy farmers took help of an animal activist to lay a trap. Shailesh approached a farmer named Ketan Bhatt in Padra to buy 16 cows and 14 calves. Once the gang arrived, Bhatt called up police that had already been tipped off. The gang was caught red-handed.
In the same Padra area, Hasmukh Parmar had become a victim in February. Shailesh took 13 cows from Parmar, giving him Rs 17,000 in cash and a cheque of Rs 4,63,000. Parmer told Swarajya that Shailesh had come with four-five men. When the cheque bounced, he called up Shailesh but the latter asked for more time. In the coming weeks, he called up Shailesh several times but he would always dilly-dally. Parmar said he did not go to the police as payments in this industry are slow.
Since the arrests of the gang members on 17 July, cattle farmers have been streaming in the police stations with complaints of being duped by the same gang using a similar modus operandi. Already, more than 50 cattle owners have come forward. Multiple FIRs have been filed, including by Patel, his neighbours, and Parmar.
Neha Patel, the activist who helped lay the trap, told Swarajya that initially the police were treating them as cheque bounce cases and she had to struggle to convince the cops to carry out the raid. “It’s now turning out to be a large-scale fraud,” said Neha.
The accused are being booked under IPC sections 406 (criminal breach of trust), 420 (cheating), 120 B (criminal conspiracy) and 114.
The gang members faked identities. Police have found that Shailesh’s real name is Salim Vohra and he is the gang leader. Other members include Imtiyaz Ali Malek, Siddique Rana, Gulab Nabi Vohra, Riyaz Vohra and Rizwan Khan Pathan.
Ravi Patel said that such a fraud is rare in Gujarat’s dairy industry and the farmers are stunned. “Who will trust cheques now? We’ll all deal with cash from now on, no matter what the government tells us,” he said. “We will also insist on the identity proofs of the buyers,” he added.
A senior police officer investigating the case told Swarajya that the accused are being interrogated and based on their statements, the police are taking dairy farmers to several locations to help get their cattle back.