New Delhi: One day a curious thing happened near Fatehpuri market which is a favourite among wholesale cloth merchants in Old Delhi. A man was spotted walking hurriedly through the shops selling prayer ritual items. Aged about 40, he was carrying with him an empty blue bag and had a smartphone tucked in his pocket. Another man intercepted him with a yellow bag on his shoulder. What they talked about during their brief conversation is not known, but a spotter watched them pull out their phones and showing something to each other. At last, the bags were exchanged and they all disappeared in the crowded lanes. No one else was able to take notice of the pair that foggy morning of mid-January 2018.
The spotter, who was a trained operative from Rajasthan Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS), did not waste time in calling his controller and reported the whole incident that he witnessed. The officer, who was many miles away in a command centre, pored over existing intelligence files, trying to make out the incident from similar interactions that were previously reported by the Human Intelligence (HUMINT) few days back, and decided to launch a sustained surveillance.
This was in fact the beginning of ‘Operation Kuber’ that after many months later culminated into a huge haul resulting in the exposure of deep-rooted hawala network across the country. The network was spreading its tentacles after demonetization in November 2016.
The name chosen for this secret operation was chosen as ‘Kuber’, which conveys the meaning as ‘God of Wealth’ and the ATS sleuths were all tracking those involved in moving illegal and unaccounted cash from one state to another.
And as there was ongoing cash crunch, the government and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) have reasoned that there is no currency crisis in the country and just a temporary shortage is being reported because of a sudden surge in withdrawal and logistical issues in replenishing ATMs. ‘Operation Kuber’ reveals that all the cash hoarders and hawala operators are once again active and a large chunk of cash is disappearing from circulation using cash mules.
The sudden surge in withdrawal of cash by the aam aadmi is another aspect of the problem, but, unnoticed hawala syndicates crawling back to business is a problem that needs to be seriously addressed by the government, which itself reveals that cash like including new currency notes of about Rs 110 crore were seized immediately after demonetization.
Within few weeks, the ATS team was able to gather evidence from chatter that the network of hawala was active in at least four states — Delhi, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. A huge amount of cash was regularly being moved from one place to another at regular intervals.
“When we say regular interval that means one transaction in six-seven days. The (delivery of) consignment by the hawala operators was conducted as a normal routine. In the hawala network, the operators typically handle the transporters from a vantage point and the identity of the transporter and the receiver is kept secret,” a top source revealed.