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The woman behind Bihar engineers' murder

By M I Khan
January 12, 2016 20:25 IST
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IMAGE: People burn tyres during protests after two engineers of a construction company were murdered in Bihar. Photograph: PTI

Munni Devi, the police claim, not only sheltered the killers, but was also a key conspirator.
M I Khan reports from Patna.

Amid mounting pressure from the Opposition alleging return of 'jungle raj' in Bihar after the killing of two engineers working for a construction company, the police arrested the sister and brother-in-law of jailed gangster Santosh Jha from the Darbhanga railway station.

The woman, Munni Devi -- who is the chief of the Baheri block in Darbhanga district and is reportedly close to several well-known politicians in the state -- is said to be the main link between Santosh Jha and his gang, which is allegedly involved in the killing of the two engineers who worked for the Gurgaon-based BSC-C&C Joint Venture Ltd.

"Munni Devi has been working as the main link between Santosh Jha and his gang, which used to demand rangdari (extortion money) from construction companies engaged in state infrastructure projects," a senior police officer at the police headquarters in Patna told this correspondent.

Munni Devi was earlier given a clean chit by Darbhanga Superintendent of Police A K Satyarthi who said there was no proof of her involvement in the crime.

Soon after the engineers were killed, Munni and her husband Sanjay Lal Dev fled to Delhi to escape the heat.

The move to arrest them came after Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's office put pressure on the authorities to round up all the suspects in the murders.

After the police obtained an arrest warrant against her, pasted a notice at her home and publicly announced it would attach her properties if she failed to surrender, Munni Devi and her husband arrived in Darbhanga on Saturday, January 9, and were arrested at the railway station. They were later sent to judicial custody.

During the ongoing investigation, it was discovered that Munni Devi not only sheltered shooters from her brother's gang who were involved in the killing, but allegedly played an active role in planning the murders.

According to the police, Munni Devi, left, used to visit the Gaya Central Jail where Santosh Jha was lodged before the murders. Munni Devi had a long meeting with her brother at the Gaya jail at the end of November.

"Authorities of the Gaya jail were directed to keep CCTV footage of her meeting with Santosh Jha as evidence because shortly after her visit, three people -- including the two engineers -- were shot dead by the gang," the police officer said.

A supervisor of an electricity company was shot dead on December 2 in Sheohar district, followed the killing of the two engineers on December 26 in Darbhanga district. In both murders, the shooters used AK-47 rifles.

Superintendent of Police Satyarthi later said Munni Devi and her husband Sanjay were charged with conspiracy and providing shelter to the shooters who allegedly killed the two engineers.

The two engineers were killed, the police said, when the company they worked for refused to pay the extortion money demanded by Santosh Jha's gang.

Although she is a Brahmin, Munni Devi contested block-level elections from the reserved seat of Baheri, claiming to be a Mahadalit.

Several complaints were filed against her candidature with the local administration, but no action was taken reportedly for fear of Santosh Jha's gang.

Before Munni Devi was arrested, her brother-in-law Pintoo Lal Dev was arrested on charges of providing information about the movement of the two engineers to the killers on the day they were killed.

Pintoo Lal was closely associated with the two shooters, Mukesh Pathak and Vikas Jha. The trio were seen at Munni Devi's home two days before the crime.

A senior manager at the construction company revealed that Mukesh Pathak has been demanding rangdari since August. Pathak had called the company several times between December 16 and 20, demanding money.

Santosh Jha was shifted to Bhagalpur Jail after the murders.

A Special Investigation Team has so far arrested ten members of Santosh Jha's gang in the case.

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