Home / Politics / Policy /  Hauling cash: the secret world of angadias

Mumbai: For ages, the angadias— in Gujarati, the word means people who carry goods on their person—have been trusted by traders in Mumbai and Ahmedabad to ferry diamonds, gold ornaments and cash between the two cities.

They make for a highly efficient network of couriers, similar to Mumbai’s fabled dabbawalas, who enjoy Six Sigma ratings—a measure of high process quality—for their accuracy, reliability and punctuality in delivering hundreds of thousands of lunch boxes to every corner of the city.

But unlike the dabbawalas, usually clad in white, sporting a Gandhi cap and identifiable by the boxes of food they carry, angadias are hard to spot.

Discreet as they are reliable, the angadias carry their precious cargo with the utmost secrecy, blending into the crowd so that the untrained eye wouldn’t be able to distinguish them from the other passengers on a crowded local train—qualities that make them much sought-after by diamond traders.

For the last couple of days, though, they have been sought out by income-tax (I-T) and police officials.

On Monday night, a team of detectives from the I-T department and the National Investigation Agency intercepted four trucks from outside Mumbai Central railway station, apparently acting on a tip-off.

The Gujarat Mail is also known as the “angadia mail’—most of the seats between carriage numbers S-4 and S-7 are occupied by the angadias, a crucial link in the trade of precious stones.

“There are around 200 angadia firms in Mumbai employing around 5,000 to 7,000 persons," said a person from the diamond industry who didn’t want to be named. “These angadias are mostly from Kathiwad or Kathiawar region of Gujarat, which consists of districts like Surendranagar, Jamnagar, Junagarh, Porbandar, Rajkot, Amreli and Bhavnagar. And many of them are from Leva-Patel community."

Angadias carry a few hundred crore rupees worth of high-value goods and cash between Mumbai and Gujarat everyday. According to some estimates, the total value of goods carried by these people, including cash, is valued at between 70,000 crore and 1 trillion per annum.

After the unearthing of the bags on Monday night, Scindia House in South Bombay, which houses the office of the I-T department’s investigation wing, is seeing a stream of visitors, including lawyers, journalists, diamond traders, all seeking information on the four mini trucks seized by the tax agency.

When a Mint team visited Scindia House on Wednesday, it found an anxious crowd of around 200 people.

Not a single person wanted to speak or identify himself; all claiming they were mere employees and as their seth (owner of the firm) was not around, they couldn’t speak to the media. “We are waiting since morning outside Scindia house, waiting to be called in to identify their goods but progress is very slow and while the big angadias and diamond traders were let inside, most of them were forced to wait outside office in rain and sun, without any toilet facility," one angadia employee said.

Swatanter Kumar, director general of I-T investigation in Mumbai, told Mint that as of Wednesday, the department had completed the counting of seized cash and that no fake currency had been found. He said the value of the seized cash and diamond was over 150 crore.

“Out of the 102 bags seized by the agency, the total amount of unaccounted cash is 11 crore," Kumar said. “We have verified and evaluated 40% of the seized rough diamond and jewellery as well. The verification is still on for the rest and it will take us at least two more days to complete our evaluation process."

At least 50 I-T officials have been working round the clock since Monday night, when the trucks were intercepted and brought to Scindia House. On Tuesday, the agency, with the help of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), installed four money counting machines at Scindia House to help with the counting. This, however, is only the beginning of a massive task which lies ahead of the tax department.

The agency next has to identify the intended recipients of the seized cargo. Since the department does not have the power to detain any person, Kumar said at least 55 courier boys and angadias, who were carrying the bags at the time of the raid, are voluntarily helping the department in identifying the owners.

Most of the rough diamonds and jewellery were on their way to Surat, the biggest diamond polishing hub in India.

A senior income tax official, who spoke to Mint on condition of anonymity, said that not all of the seized cash and valuables are unaccounted for.

“While the department has to locate and verify the accounts of each and every recipient to establish the genuineness of the transaction, it has to also ensure that the recipients of these alleged parcels don’t fudge their books to show these transactions as genuine," the official said.

Meanwhile, a number of people waited outside to be called into the I-T office for submission of documents related to the seized cargo.

One person, who declined to be named, said he was carrying his PAN card along with other relevant documents, including certain receipts, for identification.

The person from the diamond industry insider cited above said traders rely on angadias “in these days of technology only because of trust, convenience and promptness of their service".

Unlike “online transactions, there is no possibility of someone hacking your account and misusing it," the person said.

Monday’s raid was not the first time the angadias have been intercepted. A senior Mumbai police official, who did not wish to be named, said: “In 1992, a van carrying such items from Bhuleshwar to Mumbai Central was hijacked by the robbers and goods worth crores of rupees were stolen; since then we are providing protection to trucks or vans leaving the offices of angadias to Mumbai central."

The police official added: “If NIA or Income Tax department had any suspicion about transactions of any particular trader or angadia, then they could have taken us into confidence, we could have kept surveillance on activities of that particular trader or angadia,; unlike these agencies, we have men on ground to collect the intelligence."

Because the police hadn’t been taken into confidence, “we have ended up in creating media circus and making laughing stock of ourselves," the official said.

Like in most such cases, there’s a political angle.

Maharashtra Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesman Atul Shah said Monday night’s raids “are part of the conspiracy by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government to defame the Gujarati community and BJP". The BJP is in power in Gujarat, whose chief minister Narendra Modi is the party’s potential prime ministerial candidate in next year’s general election.

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