How uncle-nephew duo stole 50 mn litres oil from India’s largest onshore fields
Over a period of five years, Bhoor Singh Rajpurohit and his nephew Gautam allegedly stole 50 million litres of crude oil from the country’s largest onshore oilfield in Rajasthan. This is how they pulled off the staggering theft.
The Mangala field in Rajasthan’s Barmer district, 125 km from the Pakistan border, is the country’s largest onshore oilfield. At 5.30 pm, 12 oil tankers with crude oil sourced from well pads, queue up outside the field colloquially known by its abbreviation – MPT (Mangala Processing Terminal); the hum of engines reverberates through the sand dunes overlooking the terminal; small groups of drivers play cards beneath neem trees leading to the MPT gate; and soon, the street lights in the small township adjacent to the plant are switched on. In the next few hours, oil tankers will unload crude oil that will contribute to MPT’s daily production, 1.75 lakh barrels.
MPT contributes about 25 per cent to the country’s domestic crude production.
Sometime in 2012, at least 30 tankers cumulatively began emptying crude oil at alternative locations before reaching MPT. Over the next five years and six months, the volume of stolen oil that was originally meant for the Mangala field would become roughly five crore litres.
Between 15,000-20,000 litres of crude oil was stolen every day until three months ago, when the Barmer police arrested Bhoor Singh Rajpurohit (42) and his nephew Gautam Singh Rajpurohit (28), the alleged masterminds of one of the biggest oil robberies in India’s recent history.
Barmer and oil
Barmer, India’s second largest Lok Sabha constituency in terms of area – five times as big as Delhi – was a nondescript outpost until 2004 when Cairn Oil and Gas, a Vedanta Group company, discovered oil reserves here.
Consequently, land prices in Barmer surged and multiple businesses started mushrooming in the region – taxi, real estate, construction materials, automobiles, among others. “There was only one guest house in the city and its room rent was Rs 500. Now, there are more than a dozen hotels and many of them have tariffs as high as Rs 3,500 per night. Earlier, a person owning a Maruti 800 was considered rich here. These days, you can easily find Audis and BMWs plying on the roads here,” said Vikram Singh, who runs a handicraft shop near Barmer railway station.
The fate of the Rajpurohits was connected to that of Barmer. The family was traditionally into farming. After the oil exploration in Barmer, five brothers, that is, Kan Singh (Gautam’s father), Mohan, Madhu, Bhoor (Gautam’s uncle) and Sampat Singh ventured into real estate, stone crushing and education.
Having studied till class 10, Bhoor Singh was the most literate of the five brothers. As a child, he enjoyed herding cattle with his father. When he was in his early 20s, he started looking after the spare parts shop that was jointly owned by the brothers. In his free time, he would oversee the running of a crusher machine, owned by one of his older brothers.
From the money he got after the division of the family property, Bhoor Singh bought four bighas of land at Gadan road where he set up an oil storage facility. He obtained a license from the supply department to store 45 tons of oil at his unit.
He would regularly visit Gujarat to buy Light Diesel Oil and Furnace Oil which he would then sell in Barmer. Over the years, he made many friends in the supply chain – drivers, surveyors, distributers, mechanics and owners of transport companies.
From his earnings, Bhoor Singh bought four bighas of land at Khet Singh Ki Pyaau and set up a tyre oil plant.
Gautam Singh did his BA in Computer Applications in the hope of getting a job in a private company – a major feat in a family where the men had always opted for business over employment.
But Gautam did not get a job that matched his qualifications. So he began overseeing the operations of Hotel Madhav Paradise, a property jointly owned by the family. The hotel’s clientele mostly comprised the staff of Cairn’s vendors.
Gautam bought two oil tankers which joined the fleet of another vendor. When Bhoor was away in Gujarat for oil trade, Gautam oversaw his factories.
The uncle and nephew bonded over trade, travel and politics. “Among our four uncles, Gautam was closest to Bhoor Singh, because both of them are reserved by nature. Also, they were more like friends than uncle and nephew,” said Gautam’s cousin, Yogesh.
Five years ago, Gautam came across an oil tanker of Narendra Road Liners, one of the two companies that transported oil to MPT but was blacklisted at that time.
According to the Rajathan police’s Special Operations Group (SOG) which is investigating the case, Gautam found that though the GPS had been taken out of the tanker, the wiring was intact. He saw that it required a 12 watt battery and developed a prototype.
The modus operandi of the uncle-nephew duo who managed to rob Cairn of 50 million litres crude oil went something like this: First the crude oil was loaded on to the tankers from the oil wells. According to the police, out of multiple oil wells in Barmer, they stole oil only from three: Saraswati 1, Saraswati 2 and Rageshwari. After the oil was loaded, the tanker took a detour of approximately 35 km before it reached MPT. It stopped at Bhoor Singh’s tyre oil factory in Khet Singh Ki Pyaau.
The GPS (slightly bigger than a matchbox in size and stuck on the dashboard of the tanker) was taken out and connected to the battery of a Maruti Swift. Gautam’s driver Ram Singh would then drive the car on the route meant for the tanker. Meanwhile, the tanker went inside the factory, fighter pumps transferred the content, the tanker returned to its original route, got the GPS back and proceeded towards MPT.
Bhoor and Gautam gave cuts to tanker drivers and the field-level staff at loading and unloading points.
On one occasion, the control room at MPT phoned the driver of one of the tankers, perturbed by the slow speed or the momentary switching off of the GPS. Gautam told him, “Yaar do paise kama lene doh driver ko bhi aur mujhe bhi. (Let me and the driver make some money).” That was how Bankaram Jat, the man at the control room was managed, according to Sanjay Shrotriya, a member of Rajasthan’s Special Operations Group. “He was asking for Rs 2,000 per tanker as his cut, but agreed to Rs 1,000. Jat would collect the payment from Gautam every five days,” Shrotriya told HT.
According to the SOG, the duo made about one lakh daily after deducting cuts and commissions.
For Bhoor and Gautam, the peak season was summer because during the rains and the winter months, crude starts to freeze (at 18-20 degrees Celsius).
The duo also mixed small portions of other oils in crude oil and sold it as tyre oil and furnace oil to firms manufacturing bricks, namkeen and varnish that used such fluids as cheap substitutes for diesel.
With the booty, they bought two plots of land in Barmer, measuring 36 bigha and nine bigha, near their factories. They intended to establish a refinery on the second one.
The lid was blown off the scam on July 13 this year when the Barmer police stopped a tanker in the Nagana area for a routine check. “The driver began panicking when he was asked about the route of his tanker and other details,” Barmer SP Dr Gagandeep Singla, who was initially overseeing the case, told HT.
Subsequently, Rajasthan police arrested 37 people including Bhoor, Gautam, the staff of two transport companies (Shree Mohangarh Construction Company and Narendra Road Liners), apart from field-level staff -- surveyor, diesel genset operators, production helpers, GPS control room personnel at well pads and MPT. A charge-sheet has been filed against 32 people.
If the accused are convicted, the Chief Judicial Magistrate’s Court, Barmer, can sentence them to jail terms ranging from seven to 15 years. The police recovered more than 45,000 litres crude oil from properties owned by Bhoor and Gautam.
Out of 44 tankers used to transport crude oil from well pads to MPT, 39 were found to be involved in the theft.
Cairn did not respond to HT’s pointed queries sent through an email regarding the amount of crude oil stolen, the internal inquiry carried out by the company and if it planned to introduce any changes in its operations to avoid further thefts of this nature. All that a company spokesperson told HT via email was: “As part of the investigation into the crude theft case, Cairn Oil and Gas suspended some of its vendors. The company had, earlier, informed the police about suspicious activities around tanker movements and filed an FIR in this case. The police and investigating agencies are investigating and the company is supporting them in every possible manner.”
Gautam’s elder brother Gopal Singh Rajpurohit is a lawyer, fighting his case. Gopal told HT that Cairn’s system is foolproof and it is not possible to steal crude oil. “No theft has taken place,” he said.
--Mukesh Mathrani provided inputs for this story.