Phulchand Topno, 25, is one of the lucky ones. It came after a month’s confinement within the premises of an erstwhile jail and the payment of Rs 1 lakh, obtained after desperately pledging the family’s land to a neighbour in Nichitpur village in Khunti district’s Torpa block. All that effort now seems like a waste, for when Phulchand became a police constable, it was not through those channels.
Phulchand is a victim of what can be called a “surrender scam” that was allegedly perpetrated by Ravi Bodra, a former Military Intelligence official, with the knowledge of CRPF officers. A resident of the same village as Carolina Kerketta, one of the accused, Phulchand claims to have paid coaching centre owner Dinesh Prajapati to secure a job in the Army, paramilitary or the state police through illegal means.
Not only was he conned, he was made to pose as a left-wing extremist and “surrender” before CRPF officials. “Carolina used to come here often asking us to pay the full amount as fast as possible,” said Phulchand’s mother Monica Topno. The newly inducted constable is now posted in Giridih district.
Not everyone allegedly conned was rewarded the way Phulchand was. This reporter has met 18 victims of the scam or their relatives, and all of them had to either sell or pledge their land – adivasi land is not easily sold because of tenancy laws – or possessions to pay alleged scamster Bodra, who once worked for the MI in Assam to help secure the surrender of Bodo militants.
Everyone who was a student at the time of the incident – late 2011 to mid-2012 – dropped out and has not taken up studies since. Probably the reason Phulchand got employed was because he was the only graduate among the 18.
Laxman Singh, who had lost his elder brother to an attack by LWE organisation PLFI, was barely 17 when he dropped out of the first year of his plus-two course, sold his motorcycle and paid Rs 2.5 lakh, allegedly to Prajapati, for what was promised to be a backdoor entry to the CRPF. “We were kept at his coaching centre for 10 days in September 2011, at the end of which Ravi Bodra came. He was introduced as an Army colonel,” said Laxman. The eight of them at the centre were taken in a car to the old jail in Ranchi. He says there were about 150 people housed in the erstwhile medical dormitories behind the cellblock then; by the time Rohit Kumar got there in the winter of the same year, that number had swelled to 550 across four or five large halls. “Only when Bodra told the CRPF officials that we were Naxali did we understand we were being made to pretend as if surrendering,” said Laxman. It took him five days to leave, when he suspected that it was all a scam.
Rohit Kumar, 21, of Ambaparkna village of Torpa dropped out of his second year of BA in Khunti’s Birsa college and never went back. He is currently preparing to join the state police, through proper channels. “I was taken directly by Ravi Bodra. He had asked four of us from the village to wait at Birsa chowk in Ranchi and arrived in a car with a driver and a CRPF guard,” said Rohit, who claims to have paid Rs 70,000.
In the car, Bodra allegedly tutored him after telling them of the surrender plan. “He named an area commander of the PLFI – I forget his name – and asked me to tell the people at the camp that I had been a low-level member of the organisation. I did not even want to do that, so when asked, I told the CRPF that I was merely an informer,” he said.
This newspaper met Vijay Topno, 24, as he was carrying grass he had cut to feed his cows. Vijay is one of the many who hold on to receipts given by Dinesh Prajapati’s Digdarshan Defence & Civil Service Zone, which had got so brazen that it took out advertisements in local newspapers guaranteeing jobs in six months. The receipt for “The No. 1 Institute for Defence & Civil Service Zone in Eastern India” says that jobs are not a guarantee.
Parjapati’s agent Kerketta claims he got her two sons jobs in the Army. “Carolina would come often to my house, saying I should meet this Dinesh. I finally went and he asked for Rs 80,000. He said that all I had to do was do some running practice,” said Vijay. He paid the Rs 40,000 in three installments by pledging a parcel of land but hesitated after getting in touch with boys from neighbouring villages lured by Carolina. “I phoned them and they told me they were being housed in the jail. I decided to stop paying. When I started asking Carolina for a refund, she became rude with me,” he said.
Later, when Vijay hurried to get his receipts from Dinesh, someone from the village shouted at him in jest: “Run, run! Put all that practice you put in to some good use!”