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PLFI leader held in Khunti

Ranchi, July 5: Police, who have launched a crackdown on the PLFI in Khunti after learning that the extremist outfit had ordered closure of over 400 primary and middle schools and made a few arrests yesterday, netted a prized catch today.

Shanker Gope (22), an area commander, was rounded up by a joint team of CRPF jawans and district policemen from Balo, a forest about 16km from the district headquarters in Murhu police station area, in the wee hours.

In a poetic justice of sorts, Murhu officer-in-charge Praveen Kumar Jha, who was injured in a landmine blast engineered by Gope and his aides on March 25 this year, was in the team that arrested him.

Police confirmed that the rebel area commander was one of the main brains behind the school closure diktat that was eventually revoked by the PLFI after six days as the government stirred into action.

Khunti SP Anis Gupta said: “The security personnel raided the forest on the basis of a tip-off. Gope, wanted in 18 cases of murder and four cases of extortion, was sitting in the forest when personnel found them. He was involved in the landmine blast in which Murhu OC was injured.”

When contacted, Jha said that as soon as Gope spotted them, he started running, but was chased down and caught. “I am happy that at least one of those who wanted to kill me has been arrested,” he said.

A rifle and four rounds of ammunition were recovered from him.

According to the SP, today was the second day of the anti-rebel operation. “Yesterday, five PLFI cadres were arrested for forcing schools to shut down,” SP Gupta said.

The arrested are Raju Mahto, Ramesh Mahto, Dhananjay Binjhia, Lakha Munda and Maskalan Nag, all in the age group of 20-25. “These men, accompanied by sympathisers, visited the schools and asked the authorities to stop classes,” a police officer said.

The PLFI had asked teachers to shut down schools on June 26, as they didn’t want CRPF camps on campuses, depriving 40,000 children of midday meal and studies. But CRPF camps are lodged in only two school buildings in rural Khunti, that too in unused ones. Hence, 400 schools were paying the price for a false perception.

Police started taking action a day after chief secretary Sajal Chakraborty, home secretary N.N. Pandey and DGP Rajeev Kumar visited Khunti, the birthplace of tribal icon Birsa Munda, after The Telegraph carried a report, exposing how the poor students were suffering.