Armed with a carte blanche from Chief Minister Kamal Nath, authorities are coming down heavily in the state’s four big cities, on syndicates involved in land grabbing, drug running, sand mining and bootlegging
By Rakesh Dixit in Bhopal
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath convened a meeting of senior police officers and top bureaucrats of the four cities of Indore, Bhopal, Jabalpur and Gwalior on November 13, and his message to them was to go hammer and tongs at the well-entrenched mafias in their cities. The chief minister gave the police a free hand for that, and also promised that the government will soon bring a law against organised crime.
The state has been witnessing an unprecedented crackdown on organised crime. Armed with a clear mandate from the top political bosses, law-enforcers in the four cities have launched operations that have resulted in thousands of acres of encroached land being freed, hundreds of illegal buildings being razed, and dozens of mafias being wiped out as their dons were put behind bars.
The joint operations of the police, revenue and cooperatives departments, in tandem with the civic bodies, have emboldened thousands of victims of the land-grabbers to approach the authorities with grievances.
The state has never seen an administrative operation on such a gargantuan scale against organised crime before.
Nearly 3,000 acres of land of different housing societies are disputed in Bhopal and Indore alone.
There are 876 housing societies in Indore. Of these, 162 are on the verge of liquidation and another 374 are virtually defunct. While 75 colonies have been completed, 87 societies have not undergone any construction work. In 120 societies, the colonies are left unfinished.
In Bhopal, there are nearly 580 housing societies, out of which 104 are on the verge of closure and 235 are non-functional.
The state government’s massive exercise is multi-pronged. It is not just the land mafias that are on the government radar; operations against illegal sand mining, liquor cartels and adulteration are also simultaneously going on.
The Kamal Nath government, which completed one year in office on December 17, is enthusiastic about the drives, as people are supporting the move to rid the state of mafias. But the main opposition party, the BJP, is not pleased.
State BJP President Rakesh Singh has accused the government of being selective in the operations. “The government should take action against illegal activities, but it seems that it is just targeting BJP workers”.
Singh’s accusation has come in the backdrop of a dozen-odd cases of land-grabbing in which police acted firmly under the anti-mafia operation. BJP leaders and workers have been found either directly or indirectly involved in the cases.
The most glaring example is that of a Bhopal housing society where, it is alleged, family members of former Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan were fraudulently allotted plots.
The Economic Offences Wing (EOW) registered an FIR against Rohit Grah Nirman Sahakari Sanstha, which came into being and thrived during the BJP rule, amid allegations of patronage from the then chief minister.
The agency registered an FIR under sections of the IPC that relate to conspiracy, forgery and criminal breach of trust against more than 20 office-bearers of the housing society. Ghanshyam Rajput, a BJP official, was named as the main accused. An advocate and an accountant have also been named. The EOW officials said that the investigation will focus on fraudulent transactions and disappearance of documents.
When it was in the opposition, the Congress had repeatedly raised the demand for a probe into alleged irregularities in the housing society, but Chouhan chose not to heed it. The Congress alleged that Chouhan was complicit in the housing society’s alleged crimes because he had got more than a dozen plots allotted to his relatives.
The society, which is spread over 100 acres, had an initial membership of 1,900, but 400 of them were denied plots, citing various grounds. Of the 400 people whose membership was cancelled, some could not register their plots as they had already been sold and registered in others’ names.
In Jabalpur, the main target of the police drive against the mafia is Abdul Razzak, close to the former assembly Speaker, the late Ishwardas Rohani. Razzak, who also owns a newspaper, had covered storm water drains in large parts of Jabalpur.
Indore, the commercial capital of Madhya Pradesh, is also the biggest hotbed of mafias of all kinds. A majority of Indore land-grabbers and extortionists booked by the police are known to have thrived under political protection of BJP leaders. The party’s national general secretary, Kailash Vijayvargiya’s name is cropping up as the political patron of organised crime in Indore.
The chief minister, however, has made it clear that his government is not indulging in political vendetta. At the November 13 meeting with the top police and administrative officers, the chief minister said: “I will not tolerate any kind of mafia in the state, and I don’t care who the person is. Do whatever it takes.”
In a closed-door meeting at the secretariat, he ordered a crackdown on syndicates that run land rackets, drug rings, and muscle into the mining and cooperative sectors. The chief minister asked the home department to draft a proposal to bring about a new law—on the lines of the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act, 1999 (MCOCA)— to take on the mafia in Madhya Pradesh.
Giving the example of how anti-racketeering laws and out-of-the-box strategies brought down mobsters and mafia in Chicago, Kamal Nath said that the government “has to go beyond existing laws, keeping in view how crimes will be in the future.”
Kamal Nath warned officers and police against going soft on gangsters of all kinds. “Organised crime cannot survive without patronage of local administration and police. I won’t spare anyone and will ensure action on the slightest suspicion of their involvement.” A separate branch in the police headquarters and a special court were also proposed for dealing with organised crime.
Claiming that the action against businessman Jitu Soni was not a fallout of his newspaper Sanjha Lokswami’s coverage of the honey-trap case, the CM said that he had received complaints against Soni over a month ago that he was blackmailing people.
Soni carries a reward of Rs 1 lakh on his head, and has been absconding since November 30 when his nightclub and other establishments were raided in connection with the honey-trap case. The police rescued 67 women and seven children during the raids. Many of his properties have been demolished. The action was taken after Soni’s eveninger published stories about the infamous honey-trap case. Soni’s son, Amit, was held and remanded to police custody.
Suspended IMC engineer Harbhajan Singh, the complainant in the honey-trap case, had filed an FIR against Soni under the Information Technology Act for publishing objectionable material against him. In September this year, five women and a man were arrested from Indore and Bhopal for allegedly running a blackmailing racket.
The chief minister took a stern position as the state police have a long record of backtracking on action taken against criminals under pressure from politicians or senior officials. There is also a lurking fear that the bureaucracy and the political clan, deeply affected by the honey-trap gang, want the investigation process stalled.
“The public is disgusted with the mafiosi. Many people have complained to me. I have given a free hand to the police to take direct action,” said Kamal Nath, at the meeting where Home Minister Bala Bachchan, Chief Secretary SR Mohanty, DGP VK Singh, the ADG-intelligence, IG and commissioners of Jabalpur, Indore, Gwalior and Bhopal, and the Indore collector and IMC commissioner were present.
Sources close to the chief minister aver that the ongoing onslaught on the mafia raj is not a flash-in-the-pan drive; it will be a sustained operation.
Kamal Nath has not been active in state politics all through his four decades of a parliamentary career. He can thus rightly claim to have no connection with the mafias who flourished under political patronage. This fact gives the chief minister a unique advantage in the state to carry on the crackdown without fear of being accused of a selective or partisan witch-hunt.
Public Relations Minister PC Sharma says the CM has given clear instructions that “logon ke liye, logon ki sarkar (for the people, of the people government)” will run in MP, and not “mafia raj”. He cited earlier drives against adulteration to buttress the point that the chief minister does not succumb to any pressure within or outside the Congress. The drive against adulteration, christened “Shuddh ke liye Yuddh”, was launched by the state government two months ago. Under the drive, 94 FIRs have been registered against adulterators and action under NSA has been taken against 31 businessmen.
By forming a new sand policy, the Congress government has crushed the morale of the mining mafia. The drive helped the state government increase revenue from sand mining from Rs 200 crore to Rs 1,234 crore. Another campaign is on now to free farmers from mafia who sell adulterated fertilisers.
Sharma says that despite all the pressure, the Kamal Nath government has acted tough and ensured stern action against the mafia. For months after the Congress came to power, political instability dogged the Kamal Nath government. The Congress’s wafer-thin majority had prompted the BJP to boast that the tottering government might fall soon and even tempted its leaders to indulge in political adventurism. So far though, the chief minister has patiently weathered the political storms.
Lead picture: MP CM Kamal Nath at Bharat Bachao Rally