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Wednesday, November 4, 1998 Published at 13:04 GMT

World: South Asia

Bombay gets tough on gangsters

Hardly a day passes without a shoot-out involving criminals

Sanjiv Srivastava reports from Bombay:

A Bollywood film is currently running to packed houses all over India. Called Satya or Truth, it is a crime thriller based on the Bombay underworld.

By a strange coincidence, the film's violent story line is also being re-enacted in real life on the streets of Bombay.

After lying low for more than a year during which the police gained upper hand in their running battle with the city's underworld, the dreaded Bombay gangs have hit back with a vengeance.

Hardly a day passes without a couple of underworld-related shoot-outs in India's largest city.

The targets are mostly businessmen who refuse to pay the extortion and protection money demanded by underworld gangs. The money demanded ranges from a couple of hundred dollars to even a million dollars if the target is particularly rich and vulnerable.

More than 150 businessmen have been killed by the underworld this year for not succumbing to their threats.

The government of the western Indian State of Maharashtra has decided to frame a special law to combat the growing menace.

The new law carries stringent punishments, including the death penalty.

It also envisages a designated court and a special prosecutor to deal with underworld-related crime.

A special protection scheme for witnesses and their families is also proposed.

Some human rights organisations have, however, criticised the new law, saying it will give sweeping powers to the Bombay police force, which already faces allegations of staging fake encounters to kill alleged gangsters.

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