The Jharkhand government has asked for a CBI inquiry into reports that a former Military Intelligence (MI) official and some CRPF officers falsely projected at least 150 Adivasi youths as members of various Left Wing Extremist (LWE) organisations in 2011-12, making them “surrender” in a bid to boost statistics.
These youths were reportedly lured with the promise of jobs in the paramilitary forces. They were reportedly told that these jobs were being offered to surrendered members of LWE groups. Some of them were even made to pay as much as Rs 2 lakh.
After their “surrender” in late 2011, these youths were kept in the old Ranchi jail for up to a year, guarded by some personnel of the 203rd Battalion of the CRPF’s CoBRA. This jail was not in use since 2006, when a new jail was built on the outskirts of Ranchi.
State government sources said the “scam” was the result of an ambitious project of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) that went wrong. The MHA had brought in former MI officer Ravi Bodra, now accused of being the “lynchpin”, after his work in Assam where he convinced some Bodo militants to surrender.
“Bodra was in the Army and served in Nagaland. He later became an MI officer and was effective in getting a number of extremists to surrender in Assam. He wanted to do the same in Jharkhand and was successful for a while in Khunti district,” said Ranchi SP Anup Birthare. However, he refused to divulge which agency had given Bodra, also known as Ravi Barla, the Jharkhand mission.
“The MHA decided to use him to boost the surrenders here. The CRPF as well as the police were kept in the loop about Bodra’s activities. Bodra also maintained good relations with Maoist leaders,” said sources. There was even a plan to present the youth en masse before a minister of the MHA.
An FIR registered at the Lower Bazaar police station on March 3 this year lists Bodra, Dinesh Prajapati, Caroline Kerketta and another individual as accused. Prajapati was the director of Dighdarshan Coaching Institute and Kerketta acted as an agent. “We have recorded statements of 18 students claiming that Prajapati and Bodra took Rs 55,000-1.5 lakh from each of them, promising jobs in the Army and paramilitary forces, and then made them pose as Maoists,” said Birthare.
However, it is not clear whether those responsible for the “scam” also claimed the MHA’s benefits for surrendered members of LWE groups, who are liable to receive Rs 1.5-2.5 lakh, depending on their rank in the organisation. They are also paid Rs 4,000 per month as stipend for the first 36 months.
The Sunday Express met 14 such youths who claimed that 500-550 others hailing from Ranchi, Khunti, Gumla and Lohardaga districts were in jail with them. None of them have a criminal record.
“A man named Vijay Bara came to the village in November 2012 and said the CRPF was conducting direct recruitments. At first, he said we would have to pay Rs 30,000. This was increased later,” said Sundra Kujur of Gutia-Jamgai village in Namkum block of Ranchi district. A total of 13 youths, aged between 19-31 years, paid Rs 30,000-60,000 and surrendered as “Maoists” from this village.
“I went with Ramesh Tidu (another youth) to Bara’s house in Chalangi village in Khunti’s Torpa block to pay the money. In the evening, three Boleros with ‘Bharat Sarkar’ written on them came to Chalangi. There were others inside. Once we got inside the car, Ravi Bodra gave each of us a pistol and a bullet. He then explained that we would have to surrender,” said Sundra.
Though it was the first time he was holding a firearm, Sundra knew what “surrender” meant. “I would have to pretend to be a Maoist. Anything for a job, I thought,” he said.
Bodra also instructed the youths on what to say to their interrogators. Sundra would later claim that he was part of area commander Ranjit Bodra’s armed squad, fellow villager Alok Tidu claimed he was part of Nageshwar Pahan’s squad.
“Most of us did not even know whether these area commanders were of the CPI(Maoist) or the PLFI. I was told Pahan was a PLFI leader and that I was supposed to have been a porter in his squad for about a year-and-a-half,” said Alok Tidu.
In the jail, both Bodra and Bara did not enter the room in which the CRPF officials stood. The youths, who were made to surrender in small groups over a month, were asked to sign a register. They were sent to cells which were kept unlocked throughout the duration of their stay and allowed to keep their cellphones.
The youths said they were given two hours of physical training each morning and were expected to clean the jail premises later. A senior government official said those responsible for the “scam” paid CoBRA personnel for food provided to the youths.
They were allowed to leave the premises for two-three days every three months or so, after making prior requests. When they finally realised that it was all a “scam”, they went on “leave” and never returned.
“Two senior officers named Lakhinder and Chetan were responsible for us. Whenever a senior officer came, we were asked to stay out of sight and keep quiet,” said Sundra, who stayed in the jail for nine months. When contacted, the officer named Chetan did not give his second name and refused to comment.
Despite recording the most LWE incidents in the country in 2012 and 2013, the number of those who surrendered in Jharkhand was just six and 15 respectively. This year, the figure stands at four up to May 31. In contrast, Andhra Pradesh recorded 301 surrenders in 2012, while Orissa recorded 101 in 2013.