GETTING AWAY WITH MURDER
Surrenders by three dreaded Maoist commanders has put the spotlight on the state government’s controversial rehabilitation policy
“I feel let down by the Jharkhand police… why are they rehabilitating a brutal killer like Pahan?” SUNITA INDUWAR Late Francis Induwar’s wife
Everything was in place, it even looked a bit rehearsed. On May 14, with the media in attendance, one of Jharkhand’s most dreaded Maoists, Kundan Pahan, 38, walked into the Ranchi residence of Chhotanagpur range DIG A.V. Homkar to lay claim to the Rs 15 lakh reward on his head.
His grey hair neatly dyed, dressed in a crisp new military green uniform, the fivefoot fiveinch tall exregional committee secretary of the CPI (Maoist) looked set for the obligatory photo shoot. “I surrender to repent. I take moral responsibility for the Maoists’ violence. The CPI (Maoist) has deviated, which saddens me,” Pahan said, waving his arms and speaking with the confidence of a politician. “I now wish to be a part of the government’s development process.”
Pahan’s surrender seemingly glosses over his criminal past—74 murders including those of Jamshedpur MP Sunil Mahato in 2007, JD(U)’s Tamar MLA Ramesh Munda and Bundu DSP Pramod Kumar in 2008. But even these pale before the horrific October 2009 kidnapping and beheading of special branch inspector Francis Induwar.
Induwar, 37, was kidnapped on September 30 that year in Khunti district by Pahan’s gang. He was tor tured for six days before being killed and decapitated. Pahan now pins the blame on another dead Maoist. Nobody believes him.
In the last seven years, 159 Maoists have surrendered to the state. But three highprofile surrenders in 2017—by Maoist leaders responsible for the murders of police officers and politicians—have led some officers to privately question the efficacy of the state’s surrender policy. In February, Kanhu Munda, involved in several murders including that of inspector Sushil Nag, surrendered before the West Bengal police. Nakul Yadav, who is alleged to have killed 20 policemen, surrendered on May 4 in Ranchi in front of ADG R.K. Mallik. Regional commander Yadav, with a reward of Rs 15 lakh on his head, surrendered with zonal commander Madan Yadav (Rs 5 lakh).
On April 29, two Maoist leaders, Nunulal Hansda and Devilal Hansda, surrendered in Jharkhand’s Dumka district. The two were allegedly involved in the July 2013 killing of
Pakur SP Amarjit Balihar and the September 2010 killing of inspector Satanand Singh. The two reportedly also murdered Christian nun Sister Valsa Malamel in November 2011. On April 26, as many as 10 Maoists, including area commander Vishal Kherwar and sub zonal commander Harendra Oraon, surrendered before the Lohardaga police.
Incidentally, all states affected by Maoist violence have a surrender policy to bring rebels back into the mainstream. The Centre reimburses the expenditure incurred by this. Home ministry guidelines recommend an immediate grant of
Rs 2.5 lakh for high ranked left wing extremist (LWE) cadre and Rs 1.5 lakh for middle/ lower ranked ones.
THE SURRENDER POLICY
Introduced in 2001 and last amended in 2015 (when it was renamed Nayi Disha), the Jharkhand government’s surrender and rehabilitation policy has been controversial for its bandaid approach to extremism, its vulnerability to scams and for becoming an easy way for the state police to boost surrender statistics. (Between 2011 and 2012, as many as 514 unsuspecting youth with no police records were lured into surrendering as ‘Naxalites’ and offered jobs as constables with the CRPF.)
The new spell of surrenders presents a fresh dilemma. Though surrenders do not mean immunity from prosecution (the policy actually recommends fast track courts to try such cases), of the 150 Maoists who have surrendered since 2008, not one has been convicted so far.
Cases fall apart and Maoists get off the hook. “It’s a quid pro quo,” says a senior police official in Ranchi. “Witnesses turn hostile and the police produce little evidence to help the prosecution because there is an unofficial goslow on cases. Officials feel the Maoists will back out if even one of them gets convicted.”
This weak policy presents Maoists with an opportunity to escape punishment for past crimes, and is one possible reason why the trickle of surrenders has turned into a flood this year. Thirty-three Maoists, many of them top leaders, had surrendered to the state police till May 21 this year. There is a school of thought which asks why a policy like the one in Jammu & Kashmir cannot be followed. In J&K, the state offers surrendered militants Rs 1.5 lakh but they have to be free from all pending cases to claim it.
The prospect of seeing murderers blithely running free in public has left the families of victims seething. “I feel let down by the Jharkhand police… why are they rehabilitating a brutal killer like Pahan?” asks Sunita Induwar, wife of the slain special branch officer. Vikas Kumar Munda, an MLA from the All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU) party, was a boy when his father Ramesh Singh Munda was killed by Pahan’s men in 2008. He says he is disgusted by the welcome given to the murderer. “Is the Jharkhand police setting an example to motivate youths to join the Maoists... kill people, mint money and surrender and happily go back home with lakhs and even land,” he asks. Additional DGP R.K. Mallik, though, defends Pahan’s surrender. “He was just a cog in the giant wheel of left-wing extremism. And he will be tried in the courts for his offences,” he says.
Pahan’s case has been a turning point. Resentment over his surrender echoed in the Jharkhand High Court which initiated a suo motu PIL on the issue a day after his surrender. The court asked the Raghubar Das government to respond to allegations that the extremists were being turned into ‘Robin Hoods’ and asked the state to provide details of the money offered to them.
A division bench took cognisance of newspaper reports after advocate Hemant Shikarwar, the amicus curiae in the case, appealed to the court. Shikarwar argued that Pahan’s surrender and rewards would only glorify him, prompting other criminals to follow suit. The next hearing of the case is in June.
The Das government has preferred to ignore the outrage, possibly because it sees the surrender policy as key to its promise to eliminate Maoists by 2018. Jharkhand DGP D.K. Pandey has often been quoted on his resolve to “eliminate left-wing extremism” by year-end.
In the context, the alacrity with which the cops allowed Pahan to turn himself in is understandable. It’s a low-cost policy—the state spent just Rs 2.61 crore in 2016-17 and Rs 2.98 crore in 2015 in reward money to police (for Maoist-related breakthroughs) and for surrendered rebels. But the state’s claim that the surrender policy has improved law and order rings false. In 2016, only Chhattisgarh (395 violent incidents and 107 deaths) saw more violence than Jharkhand (323 incidents, 85 deaths). The two states together accounted for 69 per cent of the violent deaths in Maoist-related episodes.
“The surrender policy is not an amnesty scheme, the state is dutybound to prosecute them as per law,” says Shikarwar, who has appealed to the court to stop the encashment of the Rs 15 lakh cheque given to Pahan. “How can one condone the murders and rapes? This go-slow policy against surrendered Naxals is becoming lucrative for both the Maoists and the cops.”
What’s more farcical is that the policy actually allows ‘reformed’ Maoists to enjoy their loot. The CPI (Maoist) had expelled Pahan in 2013 for swindling extortion ‘levies’ meant for the group and sexually exploiting girl recruits. Pahan had then formed his own gang of breakaway Maoists. He now claims that he does not know what happened to the Rs 5.07 crore in cash and 1.2 kg of gold looted from an ICICI bank
van in 2008, nor the whereabouts of the AK-47s his gang had. In his formal confession, Pahan blames others for siphoning off the money. Besides the Rs 15 lakh reward, he stands to get Rs 5 lakh for rehabilitation, Rs 5,000 as stipend for vocational training for a year, funds to educate his children till their graduation and more benefits.
Meanwhile, Nakul Yadav, another Maoist commander who surrendered this month, had at least Rs 61 lakh in a bank account and is believed to be worth crores (according to the testimony of his brother Rohit Yadav, arrested late last year).
It’s not just the lure of money that is drawing the Maoists out of their jungle redoubts. In the past, politicians in the state had been accused of using Maoists to garner votes. This was until Kameshwar Baitha showed his comrades how to win in politics too. Baitha, with 46 criminal cases against him, was arrested in 2005, and released on bail in 2011. But even before being released, he had stunned people by winning the Palamu Lok Sabha seat on a JMM ticket in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. Having lost the 2014 election, Baitha stays in Garhwa district, virtually a free bird.
Since then, the state has seen several Maoist leaders trying their luck themselves or by proxy in electoral politics. Baitha fielded his daughter-in-law Geeta Devi in the 2011 panchayat polls. As many as 25 women candidates, backed by the CPI (Maoist) and splinter group Tritya Prastuti Committee won unopposed in Chatra, Lohardaga and Palamu districts in the same election.
Pahan is already saying he wants to contest the 2019 Jharkhand polls. “If the government gives me some responsibility, I will honestly do it. I also want to contest elections,” he told the media on May 14. Shedding the Maoists’ green fatigues for the politician’s white kurtapyjama, Pahan may be within grasp of the ultimate safety shield.