Porous borders, lack of surveilance make Delhi susceptible to car thefts, experts say

- March 24, 2024
| By : Kushan Niyogi |

According to ACKO General Insurance company’s annual report, the national capital has recorded the most number of vehicle thefts among India’s major cities; experts also cite insufficient parking spaces, overcrowding as reasons for an uptick in theft cases

Theft: Delhi Police’s data states that West Delhi recorded 4,401 thefts in 2023 and 4,136 in 2022, topping the list

According to an annual report published by general insurance company ACKO General Insurance, Delhi holds the unenviable record for the most number of motor vehicle thefts across the country. The report states that the national capital reported 105 cases of car theft every day in 2023, bringing the average to one car every 14 minutes. 

As per Delhi Police’s data on motor vehicle thefts accessed by Patriot, the national capital recorded 40,213 instances of theft in 2023 and 38,185 instances in 2022. According to the ACKO report, however, the national capital’s share in the percentage of motor vehicle thefts across the country has decreased to 37% from 56% in 2022. 

According to data reported by the insurance company, West Delhi’s Uttam Nagar, North East Delhi’s Bhajanpura, Shahdara, East Delhi’s Patparganj and South East Delhi’s Badarpur, have recorded the most thefts. 

Delhi Police’s data states that West Delhi recorded 4,401 thefts in 2023 and 4,136 in 2022, topping the list. 

Urban planning experts have stated that the rise in national capital’s motor vehicle thefts is due to the existence of numerous porous borders in multiple directions, lack of organised parking spaces, too many cars thronging the streets without enough accommodative planning, and areas without surveillance. 

INCREASE: The national capital recorded 40,213 instances of theft in 2023 and 38,185 instances in 2022

A senior official in Badarpur highlighted that such instances were not unheard of in border districts. 

“It’s easy for car thieves and car nabbing gangs around these areas to carry out their activities. The moment we file a complaint here, it is already too late and they flee the site with ease. We have started taking initiative to counter them but at the moment, we are still a work in progress,” he said. 

The official added that Badarpur noted a gradual slump of around 20% in the number of car thefts in 2023. 

According to Delhi Police’s data, eight of the 10 worst performing districts — West, North East, South East, North West, Outer, East, South, and North — have all witnessed a slight jump. Only Rohini and Shahdara have bucked the trend.

Rohini had witnessed 3,107 instances in 2022, which decreased to 3,002 in 2023, while Shahdara recorded 2,595 thefts in 2022, which decreased to 2,588 in 2023. 


According to the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Shahdara, the reduction in numbers in the area can be attributed to their self-made surveillance software and the national capital having the most number of security cameras per square mile. 

Comparitech, a non-profit dealing with surveillance and security, had conducted a survey across 150 major cities in 2023, where they found out that Delhi had 1,490.19 cameras per square mile — the highest in India and the world (barring Chinese cities). 

To overcome the obstacles posed by auto-lifters, police in Shahdara have initiated the use of the same surveillance cameras with a couple of tweaks, including the use of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras and Smart Monitoring software. 

Surendra Choudhary, the Shahdara DCP, broke the process down, stating that ANPR cameras alongside the software enable police to predict the route of any auto-lifter in the area. 

“The moment we get a complaint, it alerts police personnel all over. The Smart Monitoring software enables us to predict the route of any car-lifter who gets recognised through cameras through the use of Artificial Intelligence,” he said. 

The DCP further addressed that the use of CCTV Monitoring Units by the police force has also enabled them to control the number of car thefts. 

“Through these units, we are able to get the footage of any camera under our jurisdiction whenever the need arises,” said Choudhary. 

As of 2023, the Shahdara police department has nabbed 119 auto-lifters. 

Similarly, the South-East district police have also taken up a slew of schemes to monitor car thefts in their area of jurisdiction. The area ranked third among the districts in 2023 with 3,690 incidents, a gradual increase from 3,580 in 2022. 

“We have initiated 24×7 surveillance patrols in our district, where the patrolling bikes are fitted with GPS trackers, where they have to patrol for around 30 kilometres. According to the scheme called Raftaar, any patrolling police officer who fails to comply with the rules, is slated for an enquiry,” said Rajesh Deo, DCP South-East. 

Deo added that the heightened number of instances can also be attributed to how active the Delhi Police is when it comes to registering automobile theft complaints.

Pushkar Pawar, a town planner with the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), highlighted that CCTV surveillance is not enough to curb motor vehicle thefts in the national capital. 

“For a city as widespread as Delhi, surveillance does not provide enough security since it cannot detect the indicator lights when a car starts which also leads to the footage not capturing the number-plates in time. Moreover, not every CCTV camera is ANPR.”

According to Mukesh Mehta, an urban planning expert, the increased instances of motor vehicle thefts can be attributed to the lack of preparation in the national capital with regard to the exponential boom in the number of automobiles. 

“None of the cities across the country, and especially, in Delhi, have planned the city according to the number of cars present in the city now. This has, essentially, led to a dearth of surveilled spaces across the city owing to a lack of organised parking spaces. People keep their cars anywhere they wish to because of a lack of space, be it on the footpath, random alleys, you name it. You can’t expect the police to be able to track each one of them. It makes it easier for the nabbers to carry out their activities,” he said.

However, an urban planner associated with the Central government’s Town and Country Planning Organisation refuted the relationship between a lack of urban planning and motor vehicle thefts. 

On the condition of anonymity, he said, “Most thefts happen due to the criminal’s desperation. Even if we made more efficient urban spaces, the inclination of criminals to commit theft would remain the same.”

On the other hand, highlighting the national capital’s susceptibility to such thefts, Mehta added that it was also due to the presence of important figures that thefts are still happening. 

“The police force in Delhi is spread thin all across. More often than not, the personnel are spared for VIP personalities, which essentially leads to a lack of response,” he said. 

However, the MCD personnel stated that it was not about the presence of VIPs and the police force being spread thin since these are barricaded areas. 

“It is not possible for any police officer to check each area under their jurisdiction. The main issue arises with the unwarranted rise in cars in the national capital where one family of four has an equal number of cars. This has led to most of them using even far-off areas from their residence to park. There is a clear lack of designated parking spots, which has led to the rise in thefts.”

Pawar disclosed that the MCD had planned to introduce a scheme to start charging parking tickets on cars which were parked inside alleys. However, residents questioned if they would be offered any security if they were charged such. 

MISSING: In the past, Delhi has also witnessed instances of car accessories being stolen

“We do not have the means to offer them security as of now, so we are still checking all potential alternatives to curb thefts,” he said. 

Highlighting the need for more secure surveillance across the board, specifically near borders, Pawar also said that police should ensure that toll-free zones are not left without check-posts, emphasising the floating population in Delhi, to ensure that no car-lifter goes through.

As of March 17, 2024, Delhi has recorded 6,918 instances of motor vehicle theft, while having 20.7 lakh registered private cars according to Delhi Statistical Handbook 2023 data.