Making of Pradeep Gupta: The mastermind of UP bus hijack

Representational Pic

Pradeep Gupta, who plotted the sensational bus hijacking in Agra late Tuesday night, has been linked to smuggling of sand and illegal movement of trucks and was arrested in a major anti-corruption raid in Etawah, officials said Thursday.

The Etawah raid was carried out on March 18, 2018 and also led to arrest of two assistant regional transport officers (ARTOs), besides Gupta, who eventually got bailed out, according to police records.

The raid had yielded a recovery of Rs 28,63,774 in cash, 2 kg gold and 10 kg silver and huge RTO-related documents including official stamps and challan registers, showed the records, accessed by PTI.

A whole nexus was unveiled which showed how Gupta, who started as a middleman, wielded power and had become a parallel system of sorts in the transport department, which was also hand-in-glove with him, a senior officer privy to the episode told PTI on condition of anonymity.

The police department and the district administration had carried out the anti-corruption raid, the biggest in UP at the time, to arrest Gupta. And arrest him they did, but within no time, Gupta got bailed out from a court and continued his life unchanged, the officer said.

According to the official, Gupta, about 50 now, had been a middleman for over 12 years in the transport office but his influence grew over the years to the extent that he would even attend official meetings and sign the challans in the name of the ARTOs.

One particular night in early 2018, the district police had impounded 372 trucks which were illegally transporting sand and clay.

The trucks were loaded beyond permissible limits and their transport was also suspicious as they crossed the Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh borders, close to Etawah.

When the police called the ARTO (enforcement) to carry out the proceedings against the trucks, Gupta had emerged from the official vehicle and he was signing the challans, the officer claimed.

An Etawah police press note from March 2018 states that automobile agencies in the district had to pay a certain amount of commission to Gupta for every four-wheeler or two-wheeler they sold.

He would charge Rs 500 per four-wheeler and Rs 150 per two-wheeler. Every month around 400 four-wheelers and 1,800-2,000 two-wheelers would sell in Etawah, the police note stated.

He would also get paperwork done illegally for vehicles ranging from a motorcycle to a 14-tyre truck in lieu of money, it added.

Gupta eventually became an owner of 61 trucks before his racket was busted in the anti-corruption raid but the district police chief, who supervised the whole operation, got transferred to Ghaziabad by the time the case reached court proceedings, according to the officer.

Soon Gupta got a bail from court and on Wednesday we heard he was behind the hijacking of the passenger bus, he remarked.

A native of Jaipur in Rajasthan, the middleman had changed base to Agra after the whole episode.

Gupta was arrested on Thursday morning after an encounter with the police in Fatehabad area of Firozabad district in the wake of the bus hijack episode, Agra SSP Babloo Kumar said.

The bus was hijacked late Tuesday night and was recovered Wednesday afternoon with all 34 passengers safe.

Describing the bus hijacking as a sensational and audacious act, Kumar said the police would proceed with action against him under the stringent National Security Act once he is charge-sheeted.