Whistle-blower murdered

Print edition : April 19, 2013


A right-to-information activist, Ram Kumar Thakur, who is a member of Bihar MGNREGA Watch and an advocate, was shot dead by a group of persons when he was returning home after work in the local court on March 23. He had raised his voice against the alleged embezzlement of funds meant for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme in Ratnauli panchayat of Muzaffarpur district.

Ram Kumar Thakur is the fifth whistle-blower to be killed in Bihar in the past five years. He had produced muster rolls of people to whom MGNREGS wages had been disbursed and alleged that many of the names were fictitious and many others were of ineligible people. He had also alleged that the mukhiya of the village, Raj Kumar Sahni, had siphoned off MGNREGA funds. The panchayat administration had shown an expenditure of Rs.40 lakh, but activists claimed that hardly any money had been spent.

Ram Kumar Thakur and a few other people had founded the Lok Jagaran Manch, an advocacy organisation that helped workers unionise and highlighted corruption in the public distribution system. In 2012 Thakur had pointed to illegal diversion of the funds received by the panchayat to distribute solar lights.

Following the murder, activists jammed highways in the area and gheraoed police stations. Kamayani Swami, a trade unionist, said Ram Kumar Thakur was instrumental in preventing corruption in government schemes and pointed out that he had been attacked at least five times in the past, once in front of the police. “It is strange that the police did not give him any protection despite several requests from him,” she told Frontline. In January 2012, a social audit of MGNREGA organised by Ram Kumar Thakur had found many discrepancies in the way wages were distributed.

At that time the mukhiya’s supporters had clashed with Thakur and other activists in front of the police. In subsequent months, members of the Lok Jagaran Manch, including Ram Kumar Thakur, were assaulted many times, informed sources said. After Thakur’s brother, Janardan, was attacked on December 25 he had written to several high officials in the police that he needed protection but to no avail. Ram Kumar Thakur was also the main witness in an MGNREGA vigilance case.

The activists said the district authorities were equally responsible for the murder. Thakur’s nephew, Sujit Kumar, alleged that the police took nearly two hours to get him to hospital, where he was declared dead. The police registered an FIR against six persons—the mukhiya and his three sons and two nephews. Senior Superintendent of Police Rajesh Kumar suspended the station house officer of Ratnauli police station but denied charges of police complicity and said it was likely the result of a “personal dispute”.

Kamayani Swami said the police could not wash their hands of “the corruption scandals which had led to the ‘personal dispute’.” “Last year, he filed an RTI query seeking the muster rolls, but only half the information was provided to him. He started receiving threats from the mukhiya after that, which increased after he filed a case with the Vigilance Commission. The mukhiya issued open threats of death,” said Sanjay of Bihar MGNREGA Watch.

Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta

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