Patna: Blood is spilling across Bihar, posing one of the biggest law and order challenges for the Nitish Kumar government in the run-up to the new year.
The numbers say it all: nine murders, three of them of engineers, in four days.
The state woke up to the grisly news that yet another engineer had been found murdered. The body of Ankit Jha (42), employed by a private telecom company, was recovered from a village in Vaishali district last night.
Soon after came the news that a prominent food grain dealer from Muzaffarpur had been gunned down on Monday evening not too far away from a police station. The news of the murder sparked off protests in Muzaffarpur town this morning with hundreds of residents coming out on the streets and putting up road blockades.
The grain dealer, Santosh Kumar Choudhary (40), was sitting in his shop, located near the Ahiyapur police station at Bara Jagannath Chowk in Muzaffarpur, 80km north of Patna, when around 7.30pm four motorcycle-borne men barged in demanding money they said he had stashed in the establishment. Not finding the money, the assailants pumped three bullets into Choudhary.
A policeman gave chase to the assailants, but the criminals hurled crude bombs whose splinters wounded him. The audacity of the outlaws could be gauged from the fact that the Ahiyapur police station is a stone's throw away from Choudhary's shop.
Choudhary's murder took place within a few hours of the recovery of the body of engineer Ankit Jha from a village in neighbouring Vaishali district. Ankit, a resident of Muzaffarpur district, was engaged in cable laying work in Vaishali.
His brother Rajiv Kumar said Ankit had left home on Sunday evening, saying he was going to supervise an ongoing project in Vaishali. "He couldn't be contacted at night as his cellphone was switched off (after 10pm on Sunday)," Rajiv Kumar said.
Vaishali superintendent of police Rakesh Kumar was quoted by PTI as saying the motive behind the murder was yet to be ascertained.
The killing follows the gunning down of two engineers of a private road construction company by motorcycle-borne assailants on Saturday on the Darbhanga-Kusheshwarsthan state highway in Darbhanga district, apparently after they defied the diktat of a criminal gang for protection money.
Also on Monday night, panic gripped the residents of Kahalgaon in Bhagalpur district following the murder of the supervisor of a private construction company near the gate of the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) office. The supervisor, Nawal Kumar Kushwaha (40), was returning home from work.
The spate of murders and kidnapping for ransom had prompted chief minister Nitish Kumar to review law and order yesterday at a meeting attended by among others chief secretary Anjani Kumar Singh, principal secretary, home, Amir Subhani and director-general of police P.K. Thakur.
Even as the chief minister read the riot act and directed the police to tighten the noose around criminals, reports came in that a student of a Bihta (Patna)-based engineering college had been kidnapped allegedly for ransom. The student, Shaheed, who is enrolled in Netaji Subhas Institute of Technology at Bihta, had gone missing on December 26. His father, who lives in Dubai, reportedly received a ransom call on his mobile phone today.
More horror was in store for the police when news trickled in this morning that a skeleton found in a sugarcane field in Samastipur had been identified as that of Rahul Kumar, who was kidnapped on September 24. His abductors had allegedly demanded Rs 15 lakh as ransom.
The Opposition lashed out at the government. Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan said "jungle raj" was back in Bihar as predicted by the NDA.
The police top brass, however, refuted the charge. "Police have made significant breakthroughs in most of the cases," said ADG (headquarters) Sunil Kumar.