|People block National Highway 28 in Samastipur on Wednesday to protest against the murder.
Picture by Mohan Mahato
Samastipur, Feb. 29: Motorcycle-borne criminals today shot dead Phannu Jha, a 50-year-old liquor trader, at Satanpur village in the district.
Sources said the criminals were waiting for him near a filling station, Baidnath Petroleum, on National Highway 28 at Satanpur, located about 25km south of the district headquarters, under Ujiarpur police station. The sources added that the assailants pumped 28 bullets in Jha’s body the moment he got down from his car near the filling station.
Jha died on the spot, while the driver of his car, Dhananjay Kumar, managed to flee. Kumar is reportedly on the run. The sources did not rule out Kumar’s involvement in Jha’s murder that led to blockade on the highway, leaving hundreds of vehicles stranded for hours. The sources added that an old rivalry could be a cause of the murder.
Jha and brother Tuna were the main accused in the murder of Akhilesh Rai, an RJD leader in Samastipur. Rai was killed at Bathna village under Mushrigharari police station in 2006. The murder had created a political outrage with the RJD alleging that its workers were being targeted during the Nitish regime.
Even RJD chief Lalu Prasad had visited the family of Rai — a man with criminal antecedents. Apart from it, the names of the two brothers appeared in many cases reported from across the district and they had been lodged in Samastipur district jail in connection with the murder of Rai. However, they were released on bail. Jha’s murder, sources said, was an act of revenge killing. The police, however, remained tightlipped on the issue.
Today’s incident occurred when Jha and his driver had come to meet the owner of the petrol pump, Guddu Singh. The bike-borne criminals fired at him before Jha could meet Singh and fled. Jha was coming from his residence.
Thousands of Jha’s supporters blocked the highway since 9am, demanding immediate arrest of the criminals. They initially refused to hand over the body to the police for post-mortem.
Efforts to clear the blockade proved futile till 2pm. Sadar deputy superintendent of police Rajiv Ranjan and Dalsing Sarai sub-divisional officer cleared the blockade after assuring the demonstrators that action would be taken against the culprits.
Ranjan said: “The blockade on the highway has been cleared and the body of the deceased has been sent to Samastipur Sadar Hospital for a post-mortem. A case has not been registered so far but we are in the process of registering a murder case under Ujiarpur police station.” He added: “We are investigating it from all angles. But it is difficult to understand the motive behind the murder. It is too early to make any comment till the investigation is complete.”
Jha had been a former zila parishad member from Ujiarpur (zone 30) of the district. The deceased owns around seven to eight liquor shops across the district.
Sources said the trader feared his killing and had even aired his worry to his friends. Since his licensed gun was with the police, sources added that Jha was warned by cops to be cautious, as there was threat to his life. Sources also said the police had received the information from the Criminal Investigation Department but no security arrangements were made ever.