Development economist and a former member of the National Advisory Council of India, Jean Drèze, petitioned the chief minister and senior administrative officials to stop “police-sponsored terror” of the Jharkhand Jan Mukti Parishad (JJMP).
The JJMP is a splinter group of guerrilla combatants blamed for unleashing a reign of terror on civilians in a fight against its parent outfit, CPI (Maoists).
For around a decade, Belgian-born Drèze has been extensively working in India, most of the time in Jharkhand, on issues such as hunger, famine, gender inequality, child health, education and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA). His previous petitions to the government were largely related to the above issues.
Drèze, an honorary professor at the Delhi School of Economics and a visiting professor at the department of economics, Ranchi University, is annoyed with the JJMP for harassing innocent labourers and NREGA workers in Latehar’s Manika block. He has been espousing the NREGA workers’ causes and relentlessly fighting for their rights for several years.
“Under the pretext of countering Maoist influence, armed JJMP cadres are extorting money, interfering with elections, supporting corrupt contractors, beating up dissenters and even attempting to siphon off funds from NREGA,” Drèze told HT on his way to lodge a complaint with the Latehar DC and police superintendent.
The economist-cum-activist said people in Manika are worst-affected by the JJMP terror. Sponsored and supported by police, he said, JJMP gangs roam freely in the area and harass innocent villagers.
HT learnt that among the JJMP’s recent victims are members of the Gram Swaraj Mazdoor Sangh (GSMS), a local organisation of NREGA workers set up with the help of NREGA Sahayata Kendra, Manika.
Drèze said, during the last few months, GSMS and the Sahayata Kendra have together worked to revive the rural employment scheme in the area. The two bodies also convened a public hearing on the Public Distribution System (PDS) on 19 February, which led to the dismissal of several PDS dealers.
Due to these activities, some GSMS members have become targets of the JJMP — one of them was badly beaten just a few days ago, on 26 April.
In an earlier incident, JJMP goons allegedly demanded NREGA money from a worksite supervisor. When he explained that he had no money, they told him to close the worksite or be killed.
Locals said there have been similar threats during the Yojana Banao Abhiyan (Save Scheme Campaigns).
“We strongly condemn these criminal acts and demand strict action against those responsible for the attacks and issuing threats. We also demand the immediate disbanding of JJMP — it is nothing more than a police-sponsored criminal gang,” said Drèze.
Among others supporting Drèze’s campaign are Anil Anshuman of All India People’s Forum, Balram, advisor to Supreme Court Commissioners in right to food issues, and PUCL activists.
A state with at least 18 of 24 districts affected by Maoists menace, Jharkhand has in the last few years seen a surge in the number of such splinter and vigilante groups, who live in the jungles, kidnap, extort and even spill blood of innocents for money.
Some of these groups such as the JJMP and Tritiya Prastuti Committee fight the influence of Maoists and are supported by the police in cash and kind, a charge senior police officials deny.
“All those taking law into their hands are our enemies,” said director general of police DK Pandey.
“JJMP is a banned organisation. We will take punitive action against them,” said Latehar police superintendent Anoop Birtharay.
Despite assurances, these groups continue to abuse human rights with impunity amid allegations that the state’s security agencies, which fuelled their growth, look the other way.