UP brings the hammer down on Meerut illegal spare parts hub

One of the biggest hubs for illegal trade in spare automobile parts in India, Sotiganj Market in Meerut, has braked almost to a halt. In a government crackdown since July this year, charges have been slapped against more than 50 people, two of the biggest accused have been put in jail, and nearly 100 shops sent fresh notices. On Sunday, police held a flag march through the market.

“We have come across several complaints of cars being stolen from different places and cities, brought to Sotiganj and taken apart. The cases are difficult to trace as the parts are sent to hundreds of shops,” said SSP, Meerut, Prabhakar Chaudhary, adding that shops now have to show paperwork to ensure that only those dealing legally function.

For years now, Sotiganj Market, which came up more than seven decades ago, has been known to be the place where vehicles, including cars and bikes, stolen from western Uttar Pradesh and Delhi are brought to be dismantled. Officials said highly skilled mechanics can open up a motorcycle in merely 15 minutes, and a car in less than an hour.

In July and August this year, the Gangsters Act was slapped against nearly 50 people accused of illegal trade in spare parts. Officials said they made large recoveries of automobile items from mechanics and shopkeepers.

Sunday’s notices seeking GST registration and other paperwork were issued to the shops whose names came up during investigation into the cases.

The biggest success of the authorities has been in capturing Haji Galla and Haji Iqbal, allegedly the kingpins of the trade, who surrendered two months ago along with their sons. While Haji Galla is in judicial custody, Haji Iqbal is out on bail due to health reasons.

Haji Galla is known to have begun his journey as a mechanic in the late ’90s before becoming a trader in the Sotiganj Market. Officials say he came to control dozens of shops where vehicles would be dismantled at his bidding. More than 30 cases are pending against him, in Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, among other states, police said. He was also slapped with the National Security Act years ago.

The Meerut Police has seized property belonging to him worth nearly Rs 8 crore and is ascertaining details of his other alleged benami assets.

Haji Iqbal, Galla’s competitor, allegedly built his illegal business over the last two decades and has more than 10 cases pending against him. In November, property owned by him worth Rs 10 crore was seized by Meerut Police.

ASP, Meerut,m, Suraj Rai said they have found a massive network of people working for the two as far away as NCR. “If there is a specific demand for a black car, say, the accused relay it to a gang, that recces areas in New Delhi from Greater Kailash to Mayapuri. The gang then brings the vehicle to the outskirts of the district, and an exchange takes place,” Rai said, adding that this was just one of the modus operandi.

Officials said the accused had clearly defined areas where they would operate. Motorcycles, for example, would be picked up from outside hospitals, on the calculation that the owners would be too busy with the medical emergency to pursue a criminal case.

The notices served to the shopkeepers at Sotiganj Market Sunday gave them five days to provide legal paperwork for their establishments. Chaudhary said they did not want to disrupt the trade in any way. “This way, the illegal shops will not be able to function and the legitimate shops will be brought under legal purview.”

The locals insist there are only a few black sheep, and that the market largely deals in cars that have met with accidents or whose registration certificates have been cancelled. It boomed in the 1990s as the market for automobiles itself expanded, they say.

Nadeem, sitting between two piles of twisted metal of crushed cars at his spare parts shop, says each passing day means rising losses. Sifting through bills and documents, he adds: “They are asking for things like GST which small shops will not be able to provide… We are being harassed for no fault of ours.”

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