Jharkhand police: Enquiry or cover-up in Lalit Mehta’s murder case? 1

A report by the Dy. Commissioner, and SP Palamu indicates that police in Palamu is not serious about pursuing Lalit Metha’s murderers

One of our colleagues, Lalit Mehta, was brutally murdered  in Palamu, Jharkahand recently.  A sloppy report has prepared by the Deputy Commissioner and the SP, Palamu indicates that the Jharkhand police is either insincere in pursuing the murderers or actively protecting them. Lalit was in the process of organising a survey on NREGA along with Jean Dreze and a band of volunteers. Instead of pursuing the murders, the report casts aspersions on the survey team and even goes on to suggest that Jean could have been involved in the murder.  It also claims that the survey team manufactured evidence of fraud in NREGA works.
I have been a part of such surveys before with similar teams and I have only one word to describe the insinuations in the report – Ridiculous! Corruption after all can thrive where it gets active support of the police.  I only understand this shabby report by the police (see details below) as a attempt to protect the corrupt murderers in nexus with them.

There is now no room to have any confidence in the police in this matter.  I demand a CBI probe into the murder so that some confidence can return to to those who want to see the culprits punished.  Copied below is a statement on that is being circulated for a signature campaign on this issue.

We are shocked by the recent report prepared by the Deputy Commissioner (DC) and Superintendent of Police (SP) of Palamau, commenting on Lalit Mehta’s murder as well as on the survey of NREGA conducted there in May 2008 by the G.B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad.  This report is a deliberate attempt to divert attention from the real issues, which effectively protects those responsible for corruption and violence in the area.

The report shows that the police have made no serious enquiries into Lalit Mehta’s murder. It does not provide any credible clue to this murder, but raises a number of mischievous conjectures using selective evidence. For instance, the report refers to interviews with Lalit Mehta’s brother and his sons, without mentioning that the sons are one and three years old, respectively. Meanwhile, evidence from extensive interviews with Lalit’s wife, Ashrita, is ignored. Further, the report is full of factual mistakes. Even the date of the murder is incorrect: Lalit Mehta was murdered on 14 May, not on 15 May as stated in the report.

Instead of presenting a serious analysis of the circumstances of the murder, the report makes  absurd insinuations, such as Jean Drèze’s possible involvement in the murder, or the allegation that he and his team manufactured evidence of fraud in NREGA works. Equally ridiculous is the unsubstantiated claim of the possible role of an old family dispute about Lalit Mehta’s inter-religious marriage being the cause for the murder.

The report also makes insidious allegations about the survey team, Vikas Sahyog Kendra, and Lalit Mehta’s family. For instance, the report presents a ludicrous picture of the social audit activities conducted by the survey team, and even accuses the team of using devious means to collect testimonies. No-one familiar with the team’s work (which was conducted in a transparent manner in full view of the public and the media) can take this seriously. Casting  unwarranted aspersions on people like Jean Drèze, who is a member of the Central Employment Guarantee Council (and therefore mandated to monitor and investigate NREGA implementation anywhere in the country), and on students from Delhi University  and other reputed universities, is in fact an attempt to snuff out any independent monitoring of government expenditure.

The report reinforces earlier suspicions that there is an entrenched and deep rooted nexus of corruption and violence surrounding NREGA in Palamau, with powerful connections. Otherwise, why would the district’s seniormost officers go to such length to undermine a forthright examination of the use of NREGA funds in this area?

We demand that the report of the DC and SP Palamau be rejected by the Central Government as well as by the State Government, and that a CBI enquiry into Lalit Mehta’s murder and the corruption in NREGA works in Palamau District be initiated immediately.

About Vivek Srinivasan

I work with the Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford University. Before this, I worked with the Right to Food Campaign and other rights based campaigns in India. To learn more, click here.

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