Criminal Syndicates Rule Ruralmaharashtra
Criminal syndicates be it in sand or be it in adulterated oil or be it in adulterated milk, they function with impunity in the interiors of Maharashtra. Thanks to the political patronage they receive as quid pro quo for providing election funds and muscle power.
Additional district collector’s murder on January 25, by oil adulterating syndicate is a case in point, of the criminalisation of politics in Maharashtra. Even as the last rituals of Sonawane were still being conducted and oil thieves reportedly scurrying into their hideouts, the criminal syndicate again struck at the law enforcing agents in Nagpur by bashing raiding police party members.
Not that the criminalisation of politics is new to the nation or the state, but the brazen attack on a state’s representative by the people living on the fringes of law and the state’s hesitancy in tackling the case indicates the intertwining of power interests between politics and criminal syndicates.
Existence of criminal syndicates has always been a common phenomenon in Mumbai from late sixties till early nineties when high seas smuggling used to flourish. Thereafter, the hydra-headed criminal syndicate changed its face following the de-reservation of land, into becoming land sharks.
Corollary with the sudden spurt in the vehicular population and a jump in the craze to possess large vehicles, the oil pilferers both in Mumbai and in hinterlands who hitherto were considered as extremely small and non-influential group in crime hierarchy, began climbing the crime ladder at an exponential pace.
The result: Today the oil adulteration which primarily means: Pilfer oil from the tankers enroute and after adulteration with subsidised kerosene or diesel, sell it in the grey market for both vehicles as well as agro-machines.
A conservative estimate of the monies in the oil adulteration business is pegged over Rs 1000 crore and according to revenue officials, “The reality just cannot be estimated because it is so large and has roots into political structure itself. So how much money is black in the elections or party coffers and how much is white, is like trying to find out whether Zebra’s skin is black or white…”
And though it is a known but hardly spoken tacit fact that the rise and fall of criminal syndicate is corollary to the rise and fall of the political mentor, ironically, one of the key accused Popat Shinde who had allegedly set Sonawane ablaze, was a common figure in every political rally irrespective of political flag.
Prior to the rise of Senior Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) minister Chhagan Bhujbal’s son Pankaj Bhujbal in Nashik, Shinde was seen in the support rally of Shiv Sena party which was in power then. Thereafter, Shinde, a history-sheeter was at the forefront of Pankaj Bhujbal’s rally.
Sharing dias with politicians Shinde was a force to reckon with in northern Maharashtra region. He was one of the powerful figure in the criminal oil syndicate, operating in Khandesh region, thanks to his proximity with ruling party politicians and also media persons.
Like the underworld of Mumbai, the criminal syndicates operating in Maharashtra hinterlands, openly flirted with media people, planting baseless fictional stories with a dash of investigative flavour so as to give it a veneer of authenticity.
A case in point is the recent report of Sonawane’s attempting to collect bribe from Shinde. Gullible and by-line crazy reporters were selected and deliberately doped with unsubstantiated stuff about the murder being an outcome of an argument between Sonawane and Shinde over the bribe amount.
The articles, according to senior journalists, from the region were deliberately planted in national newspapers so as to deflect the issue from the existence of criminal syndicates and their nexus with politicians.
“The issue is not whether he (Sonawane) had anonymous complaints filed against him in ACB (Anti-Corruption Bureau,) since it is very common even for honest officers to have complaint filed against them not only by corrupt fellow officers but also by gangsters…the issue here is, do such complaints absolves or deny the existence and acts of criminal syndicates. In fact, such reports also act as a subtle warning to other honest officers,” says senior journalist Rakshit Sonawane, Political Bureau Chief (Mumbai) Indian Express.
And it is precisely because of this very menacing existence of these hydra-headed syndicates, honest officers from the revenue department have sought official firearms like the one’s given to officers in Customs.
Moreover, they have also sought an amendment in the quantum of punishment and sentence imposed in Sec 353 of IPC dealing with assault on public servant on duty, from two years of RI (rigourous imprisonment) to five years of RI as well as a change in the Externment Act. Law enforcing officers have asked that an externee should be put into judicial custody if seen in the area from where he or she is externed.
Even as the state government is still mulling over the demands, a section of law enforcing officers are toying with the idea that the accused so far taken into custody should be charged under sedition and waging a war against nation since the killing was that of a state’s representative.
By Prabhat Sharan from Mumbai