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Victim ‘reborn’, hunt for kidnap kingpins

Nilai Institute of Technology chairman Bheem Singh Munda was kept in rooms infested with rodents, made to starve and go thirsty, and frequently shuttled between squalid hideouts during the nine days an interstate gang held him captive in a village in Bihar, 300km from Ranchi.

The 62-year-old former serviceman was escorted to the Jharkhand capital on Wednesday after five police squads swooped on Darhara village in Rohtas district around 6pm on Tuesday and rescued him in a swift 15-minute operation. Policemen in plain clothes also managed to nab seven members of the gang along with four firearms, 12 rounds of ammunition, nine cellphones and two bikes. However, the masterminds of the abduction are still at large.

“The gang operates in Bihar, UP, Bengal and Jharkhand. All its members are hardcore criminals, wanted many cases, including murder. Their USP is meticulous planning. The gang spent four months and around Rs 15 lakh to orchestrate this kidnap. The demand for ransom was Rs 5 crore, but our efficient network helped engineer a rescue without the payment,” DIG (South Chotanagpur) Praveen Kumar Singh told mediapersons on Wednesday in the presence of SSP Prabhat Kumar and SP (rural) S.K. Jha, besides Munda.

The arrested seven have been identified as Lalan Paswan, Rakesh Kumar Pandey, Banta Paswan, Santosh Kumar Paswan, Raja Babu Kumar, Luv Kumar and Surendra Paswan. Except Raja and Luv, who are residents of Rohtas in Bihar, the rest are natives of Palamau in Jharkhand.

The kingpins are Kunal Singh, who ran away from the army, and Jhoolan Singh, a wanted criminal. Both are residents of Daltonganj. “They are yet to be arrested. A hunt is on,” DIG Singh conceded.

Narrating his ordeal, the private engineering college chairman — who had been whisked away in front of a colleague near Thakurgaon in Burmu, on the outskirts of Ranchi, on August 4 evening — underscored that he felt reborn. “I had lost all hope of survival when police raided the hideout of my kidnappers and rescued me. It was my rebirth,” Munda, a resident of Kadru who had retired from the army 20 years ago, said.

The elderly man said he was kept in “at least three unknown locations without proper food and water, and in rooms full of mosquitoes and rats”.

On the day of his abduction, Munda was trussed up, blindfolded and his mouth taped before being packed into an SUV. Courtesy his career, he could still make out that there were seven persons around.

“They drove real fast and the next day (August 5) around 5am, I found myself in a mud house. We were holed up there for three days and then I was shifted to two different locations on the fourth and seventh day. The gang knew police were on their trail and hence they kept shuttling between hideouts. Yesterday, too, preparations were on to shift me when police busted the hideout,” Munda recalled.

For a moment, he thought it was a coup by a rival gang because the police were in plain clothes. “But then, someone hollered my name and I realised it was a rescue mission. What a relief that was!” he said, profusely thanking Ranchi police for a brilliant job done.