Following a trap set by the Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission, an organised racket being run by misusing the name and the emblem of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) was unearthed in Maharashtra on Thursday. It has come to light that members affiliated to an NGO — the National Human Rights Centre — were allegedly claiming that that they were a part of the NHRC.
Justice S R Bannurmath, Chairperson, Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission (MSHRC), who had received a complaint in this regard, laid a trap by inviting a Satara-based member of the NGO to his Mumbai office under the garb of helping him with a Human Rights-related complaint.
It was the information that this member provided after being lured into the trap that exposed the flourishing racket.
Akash Ranjane, 29, who has been designated as the Satara District President (Vigilance) for the NGO, was found carrying an identity card and a letter head, claiming that the NGO was affiliated to the National Human Rights Commission. These documents also claimed that it was the NHRC that had appointed him “in exercise of the powers conferred by sub-section (2) of section 10 of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993.” The section referred to actually deals with NHRC’s powers to lay down regulations for its activities. The letter head also bears NHRC’s official emblem.
Earlier on May 23, the MSHRC had received a private complaint that Ranjane had been misusing NHRC’s name, following which it decided to investigate the matter further. “We immediately seized his identity card,” said Justice SR Bannurmath. “But it was the details that he went on to further provide which were even more shocking,” he said.
Signalling that the racket had been flourishing across the state for at least a couple of years, Ranjane reportedly said that he joined the NGO in 2012, when one Tushar Deshmukh, who now resides in Nashik, met him. “He (Deshmukh) had claimed that he was NHRC’s Maharashtra State Vigilance Chief, and had powers to recruit members. He was travelling in a red beacon car and had security guards protecting him. Unsuspectingly, I paid him Rs 55,000 for enrolling myself, after which he gave me the identity card and the format for the letter head,” Ranjane said, when The Indian Express contacted him.
Though he denied involvement in anything illegal, Ranjane conceded that he had used the letter head and the fake identity to lodge complaints against illegal constructions in Satara.
Based on the information Ranjane provided, the MSHRC found that the same Deshmukh had similarly collected money to make Pune-based ayurvedic doctor Dr Kishor Shahane a member. “It was only recently that I realised that I was conned. I did not know this was a racket,” Shahane told The Indian Express. He denied using the identity card and the letter head even once.
Following the revelation, the MSHRC on Thursday wrote to Praveen Dixit, the state Director General of Police (DGP), directing him to register a fraud case in the matter, and investigate the it further.
“The NHRC had earlier directed state governments to crack down on fake NGOs that were misusing its name. But it appears that concrete steps in this regard have not been initiated. We have also been receiving several complaints of NGOs carrying out fraudulent activities in the name of Human Rights. The government must act against all such NGOs that are victimising innocent people,” said Justice SR Bannurmath.
The MSHRC has also decided to seek a report from the transport department on how Deshmukh was allowed to move around in a vehicle with a beacon. When The Indian Express contacted Deshmukh, the person who answered asked the correspondent to call back on Friday. He however provided that information that Deshmukh now resides in Pune.
The NGO, incidentally, has a registered office in Borivli, in the suburbs of Mumbai. But the number provided for this office was incorrect. The phone number mentioned in the contact details for the NGO’s administration office, in Goregaon, was also not functional.
The MSHRC chairperson claimed that he had received complaints against the NGO in the past too.