Lawyer cum RTI activist who exposed MGNREGA scam in Bihar shot dead

Police accused of not providing protection to victim Ram Kumar Thakur and helping village mukhiya, the prime accused in the murder

By Alok Gupta, Jitendra
Published: Tuesday 26 March 2013

Ram Kumar Thakur, one of the main persons to expose the scam relating to payments under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) in Muzaffarpur, was shot dead in his native village, Ratnauli, on Saturday evening. The village head or mukhiya is the prime suspect in the case. 

Thakur, a lawyer by profession, had exposed a series of scams connected to MGNREGA and installation of solar lights in his panchayat. He was associated with the non-profit, Bihar MGNREGA Watch. He had filed around seven Right to Information (RTI) applications to expose the irregularities in payments under the the rural employment scheme. The RTI replies were used as a legal document to force the State Rural Development Ministry to conduct a social audit of the scheme in the village. According to police records, Thakur was beaten up by the mukhiya and his henchmen during the social audit of the scheme in January, 2012. 

“The deceased had become an eyesore for the Ratnauli panchayat mukhiya, Rajkumar Sahini,” said Sanjay Sahini, coordinator of Bihar MGNREGA Watch. 

Tension between the deceased and the mukhiya escalated after the former filed a petition in the local vigilance court, seeking arrest of those involved in the job scheme scam and irregularities in installation of solar lights. In a separate set of documents procured through RTI, Thakur had found that seven solar street lights have been installed in Ratnauli panchayat; in reality, only three solar lights had been installed. Following this, in  December last, the victim and his family had received death threats from the mukhiya’s son, Rajesh. The victim had then demanded protection from police and also wrote a letter to the deputy inspector general of police. 

Thakur was shot twice while he was on his way to home. In the FIR filed by Thakur’s family, Rajkumar and his brothers have been named the main accused.

How the scam was engineered  

Thakur had legal documents showing how work under the rural job scheme was allocated to non-existent labourers and wages were taken by the mukhiya. Documents also reveal that some of the civil works were completed only on paper. Funds allocated for these civil works were withdrawn through fake signatures.

In a preliminary report prepared by the deceased, the total amount swindled under the project was pegged at around Rs 25 lakh. It included payment of Rs 5 lakh to imaginary labourers and Rs 20 lakh swindled on account of solar lights. 

Bar association mounts pressure

Irate over the killing of their colleague, the Muzaffarpur Bar Association took a unanimous decision that no lawyer would defend the Ratnauli panchayat mukhiya. 

Shiv Mohan, president of the Bar Association has demanded a government job for one family member of the deceased and a compensation of Rs 20 lakh. 

Under pressure from the Bar Association, Rajesh Kumar, senior superintendent of police (SSP) of Muzaffarpur, has suspended station house officer (SHO) Shafir Alam for dereliction of duty. 

Members of the Bar also claimed that Thakur had met senior police officials, including DGP, seeking protection. “This murder could have been prevented if the police had showed a human face,” Mohan added. 

The SSP is also probing into the nexus between the SHO and accused mukhiya in harassing and killing Thakur. The SSP said that enmity between Thakur and the accused mukhiya was a well-known fact among locals. “The SHO has been suspended for dereliction of duty and fair probe into the killing,” he said. 

Till the time of filing reports no arrests were made by the police. Police is conducting raids at various places to nab the killers. 

'Police complicity in delaying treatment'

A six member of fact-finding team of the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) has, meanwhile, questioned the role of the local police in the death of Thakur. It has demanded complete investigation into  the role of police complicity and corruption in Ratnauli panchayat and a comprehensive law for the protection of such persons. It was the fifth murder of a whistle-blower in Bihar in the past seven years.

As per the fact-finding report, the victim was seriously injured and alive when he was stopped by local police of Manihari police station and transported to a distant private hospital by a SUV with missing number plate, instead of a nearby private clinic. In this process, the victim's treatment was delayed by two hours and he was brought dead to the hospital.

The members of the fact-finding team were Shahid Kamal, Ashish Ranjan, Mahendra Yadav (NAPM), Ranjit Paswan, Arvind Kumar (JJSS), and Sanjay Sahni (Bihar MNREGA Watch).

The report said that if the police and administration had taken victim's  appeal seriously, he would still be alive. The team has also demanded  immediate relief of Rs 20 lakh to victim's family and arresting of named six perpetrators and speedy trial of this case.  

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