The decomposed body of a 50-year-old priest, presumably murdered days ago, was found by villagers on Thursday morning from dense forests at Dalma Wildlife Sanctuary, but Bodam police recovered it around 5pm, some nine hours from the discovery, citing “jurisdiction dispute”.
The deceased, identified as Giri Baba, officiated as the priest of a Ganesh temple perched some 500ft high in the Dalma hills. Missing since one week, the absence of the popular priest — a regular fixture at the temple for the past three decades — had villagers worried.
Finally, the body was discovered due to the strong, foul smell. A band of villagers traced it to the decomposed body hidden in the woods, some 500m from the temple.
Though the body was found in the area under Bodam thana, East Singhbhum, confusion between them and their counterparts in Chandil thana, Seraikela-Kharsawan, over jurisdiction led to the inordinate delay of the police in reaching the site.
Bodam police, led by N.K. Mandal, finally reached Dalma before sundown.
In the meantime, villagers brought the body from the jungle to the temple where the priest served for some 30 years.
Residents feel the priest was murdered as the body was hidden inside dense vegetation. His personal articles were scattered on the temple floor, suggesting he was forcibly taken elsewhere.
Himanshu Mahto, a villager, said they did not see Giri Baba on Ganesh Chaturthi, September 9.
“We searched for him and then returned to the temple to offer puja. Next day, a section of villagers undertook a thorough search. When the priest was not found, they went to Bodam police station. But officer-in-charge N.K. Mandal refused to accept the missing report. When they went to Chandil police, circle inspector O.P. Singh also refused to accept the missing report,” he alleged.
Circle inspector Singh admitted a group of villagers did approach him. “But as the jurisdiction comes under Bodam police in East Singhbhum, we had to steer them to the thana,” he said.
Bodam OC Mandal, earlier in the day, maintained the site fell under Chandil thana. Later on, he was forced to go.
Villagers alleged this confusion of Chandil and Bodam police was an instance of official reluctance to enter Dalma interiors, still known for periodic Naxalite presence.
Villagers are also angry over the police delay because the priest was beloved in the area.
“He was a good man and we will miss him,” Mahto said.
Giri Baba used to go to Jamshedpur every 10 days to buy food. “In Jamshedpur, he came to Pardih Kali Temple for bhog, went to a shop in Sakchi and then to a relative’s house in Sonari. While returning to Dalma hills, he would again stop here for prasad. He was a simple man,” said a priest with Pardih Kali Temple.