Mumbai: The Mumbai Police nabbed the self-styled spokesperson of Mumbai’s ‘dabbawalas’ for an alleged loan fraud in the name of 61 dabbawalas by promising to give them free scooters, an official said here Tuesday.
“A police team picked up the accused, Subhash Gangaram Talekar, from his village in Pune district and brought him to Mumbai early Tuesday. He will be produced before a Magistrate Court shortly,” Ghatkopar Police Station’s Senior Police Inspector Nitin Alaknure told IANS.
Besides Talekar, 50, two other dabbawalas, Vitthal Sawant, Dashrath Kedari, and two from private companies Rakesh Prasad of Sai Enterprises and Bhavesh Doshi of Twist 2 Wheelers are absconding and the police are on the lookout for them.
Alaknure said that the fraud – amounting to almost Rs 7,00,000 – was being perpetrated since 2014, and a complaint was lodged against Talekar in February 2019.
“Thereafter, investigations were carried out in the matter, but there were hurdles during Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown. He had also moved the Bombay High Court for anticipatory bail which was rejected after which we took the action,” Alaknure added.
The official body of dabbawalas, Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Charitable Trust (NMTBSCT) Chairman Ulhas Muke welcomed the development and said the accused has been “ruining the good image” of dabbawalas with such fraudulent practices.
The NMTCSCT had issues a public warning against several ‘fakes’ in their midst committing frauds which was first highlighted by IANS. (October 10, 2019).
Giving details, NMTBSCT spokesperson Ritesh Andre said that in 2014, Talekar and his associates lured the 61 poor and illiterate dabbawalas with promises of free scooters for their tiffin delivery services.
For availing this offer, they were made to sign blank vehicle loan papers from Bhairavnath Patsansthan, and the accused picked up the loan amount of nearly Rs 7,00,000.
“However, later only 15 dabbawalas were given TVS Luna Mopeds, 23 were handed over vehicles without any registration documents, and the rest got nothing though loans were picked up in their names,” Andre told IANS.
The fraud came to light in early 2019 when the dabbawalas suddenly got notices from the lenders seeking loan repayment against threat of confiscating their vehicles or property.
Shocked by the development, they lodged a police complaint which finally resulted in the arrest of Talekar now, Andre said.
Muke and Andre claimed that Talekar has earlier misused the good image of the dabbawala community to collect funds from various social groups and corporates through a fake organisation comprising his family members.
During the Covid-19 lockdown, he reportedly sold aid kits given to dabbawalas in the open markets at huge profits, and Rs 21 lakh collected by crowd-funding through a private radio channel in the name of dabbawalas was seized.
Talekar exploited the global influence of the dabbawalas by claiming to be their president, visiting top companies, universities, colleges and other programmes by various organisations to deliver sponsored lectures and collecting funds which never reached the ordinary dabbawalas, the duo said.
Andre said Talekar attempted to mislead the media by distributing his photos with prominent political leaders or celebrities, issued unauthorised political statements on behalf of dabbawalas which often put them in embarrassing positions and adopted stands on various issues concerning the tiffin delivery fraternity.