April 22, 2015 2:27:27 am
A new “strain” of local goons has taken strong root in fringe areas of the city and the villages around Pune. They are erstwhile landowners who often grab land and carry out land dealings. The goons also carry illegal weapons, move around in fancy SUVs and have a force of unemployed rural youth, whom they attract using “money power” to lend them “muscle power”.
Police have recorded increasing incidents of violence by people who fit this description in the last few years.
In the latest incident, four such criminals on police records have been arrested. One of them fired at a hotel owner after a minor dispute over drinks on Saturday night.
A senior police officer said, “Two of the four suspects are from well-to-do families in the nearby areas and have been involved in criminal activities in the past. One of them has a case of attempt to murder registered against him at Chakan police station.”
The “clones” of these criminals on police records can be found all over the city and rural areas, especially in fringe areas. The officer added, “Towards the mid-1990s, a pattern was seen in rural areas around Pune. There was large scale development, and industrial projects started coming up, the Expressway, highways, dedicated industrial areas under the flagship of the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC), which included the Information Technology Park at Hinjewadi, to name a few. These projects required large scale land acquisition. The vicious cycle started from there.”
The officer added, “Land acquisition needed local muscle men to ‘convince’ or at times force the farmers to give away their land in lieu of money and in the process these muscle men became rich. Not all farmers benefited from the development but those who did, suddenly found cash in their hands. Most of these muscle men and cash-rich farmers got into local politics and started illegal activities like land grabbing and extortion.”
In local parlance, these people are often referred to as guntha mantri — guntha is a unit of land 1/40 of an acre (a reference to them dealing in land) and mantri means a minister (a reference to their political clout). Many of these muscle-men-turned-criminals were wrestlers in their youth and like to narrate about their days of being pahalwans (wrestlers).
Sharad Mohol for instance from Mutha village in Mulshi taluka was a regular at the wrestling arena (akhada) in Mutha village before metamorphosing into a dreaded criminal. Mohol, when he was lodged in Yerawada jail in 2012, along with his accomplice Alok Bhalerao murdered terror suspect Quateel Siddiqui in the high security Anda Cell of the jail, police said.
When The Indian Express visited Mutha village in Mulshi, people there expressed hatred for Sharad Mohol, though some felt that he has done nothing wrong.
Mohol even wanted to contest the election for Mutha deputy sarpanch post but was disqualified.
A retired Indian Police Service (IPS) officer who has served in Pune in the past said, “Over the years, a nexus developed between builders, industrialists hungry for land, politicians and local goons. Many goons even joined political parties and fought elections. Some of them even won. And I have to say with regret that police too are part of this nexus and do not carry out their duty. Illegal weapons flow freely and police have no check on it. Most of the weapon seizures involve small-time dealers. Those who carry the weapons are never caught.”
Senior officers from both Pune city and Pune rural police, however, say that they regularly take action against criminals and criminal groups and that many of them are behind bars.
A former sarpanch of a village in Mulshi area said, “Three of my nephews are now historysheeters. These people have three fascinations; guns, fancy cars and gold ornaments. They have a lot of money from land dealings and don’t know how to handle cash. They sometimes tell me that now that they are into this, they cannot get out of it and that “there is a bullet out there” for them. A lot of young men in the village who have no or very little education like to move around with these people and work for them. They too get their share of lavish lifestyle. The scene is the same in almost all the villages around Pune.”
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