Tura: Thousands joined a silent procession on Thursday in Meghalaya to protest the abduction of a Catholic official, who had refused extortion demands from an underground militant group in the northeastern Indian state.
A day earlier, the Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) claimed responsibility for kidnapping Jude Rangku T Sangma, the Block Development Officer (BDO) of the militancy-affected Chokpot region in South Garo Hills district.
The silent procession in Baghmara was headed by officers and civil society organizations. The Garo Students Union (GSU), Mindikgre unit of East Garo Hills, The All Garo Hills Tegite Mahari Association, The Mothers’ Union, Tura, appeal for unconditional and safe release of the abducted BDO.
Sangma, former student of a Salesian school and the 2010 batch of the Meghalaya Civil Service in 2010, has been serving the Chokpot block for the past two years.
The member of Araimile parish of Tura diocese had received several threats and extortion demand from GNLA area commander Hedio Ch Momin (Karak), local newspapers reported. The police had offered Sangma security cover but he refused saying it would impede his work.
The militant group abducted him on Tuesday while he was on his way to Tura.
The GNLA area commander said on October 28 that Sangma was kidnapped after the officer blamed politicians and the militant outfit for the non-implementation of projects.
Sangma had left Chokpot block office around 4:30 pm en route Tura and had stopped over at a funeral of a relative in Deku Deganggre village, 25 km from Chokpot town.
He reportedly drove his government allotted green Mahindra Armada jeep in the absence of his driver.
The kidnapping is learnt to have taken place after the young officer had paid his respects at the funeral home and was proceeding toward Tura.
Police came to know of the officer’s disappearance only by around 7 pm.
A press release from Hedio alleged that Sangma had told the state chief minister who visited Tura on October 23 that the militant outfit had taken 400 million rupees sanctioned for repairing roads in the block.”Till date we have not taken any money from the block or the BDO,” the press release asserted.
Further, the outfit alleged that the officer also blamed a state minister when questioned about non-utilization of funds under rural development schemes.
Hedio stated that the officer was in their custody in a camp where he would be questioned for his statements and allegations.
The outfit noted that as many as 248 villages in Tura were part of the rural development scheme known as Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Gurantee Scheme (MGNREGS). The scheme had some 200 million rupees to be given to poor villagers who undertook menial work for 60 days in a year. However, the officer alleged that a minister had taken the entire amount for a by-election.
Hedio also said Sangma would be questioned about 11.51 million rupees sanctioned for another project.
The sensational allegations pointed to the amount of political influence exhorted by local legislators on blocks, administrative units in a state. However, the Meghalaya Times that reported the abduction said it could not verify the allegations from independent sources.
Most who have worked with the BDO have sworn by his integrity and dedication, the newspaper reported.
Meanwhile police have stepped up their efforts to rescue the kidnapped official, said Lakador Syiem Superintendent of Police (SP) of the district.
“Though the terrain is difficult we will not spare any effort to seek his release. We are hopeful of a breakthrough soon,” the police official said.
This is the third instance of a BDO in Garo Hills getting abducted by militants and the second by the banned GNLA.
In 2012, P.K. Boro, the BDO of Dadenggre block in West Garo Hills was kidnapped from the block office in broad daylight by GNLA militants. He was released only on the eve of Christmas, the same year, after 34 days of captivity.
Previously, the BDO of Selsella, Dr. D. Roy was kidnapped by ANVC militants from Selsella region.