The verdict handed down by NIA Special Court in the NC Hills multi-crore scam case, albeit coming eight years after filing of charge-sheet, must surely be hailed as justice done. Life terms have been handed to the three kingpins of the scam, DHD(J) leaders Jewel Garlosa and Niranjan Hojai who took to politics and won elections after unleashing terror in Dima Hasao, and Mohit Hojai who once headed the NC Hills Autonomous Council (NCHAC). The other 12 accused in the two NIA cases have been given jail terms varying from 12 to 8 years. This case is often cited as a precedent whenever the searchlights are put upon how government funds meant for people’s welfare get diverted to terrorists. This was why the tiol Investigative Agency (NIA), immediately after its formation in the wake of the Mumbai terror attacks in November 2008, took up this case from the CBI. As investigation picked up steam, the NIA registered two cases in June 2009 and the first charge-sheet was filed that year itself. It soon came to light how the dreaded DHD(J) or Black Widow outfit had struck a flourishing nexus with elected members of NCHAC, government officials and contractors. Funds earmarked for the Council, which ran the administration in NC Hills district under the Sixth Schedule, were siphoned off to a well-oiled money laundering network that sent the money abroad through hawala route. While the DHD(J) used death threats, intimidation and murder of elected representatives to telling effect in effecting this scam, sections of politicians and top babus in Dispur too extorted their share in the spoils. In just one instance, a CAG special audit for a period of nearly 27 months from 2007-08 fiscal to June 12, 2009, revealed that while the State government on paper released Rs 151.4 crore to the Council’s eight departments, the actual figure was Rs 424.04 crore. So, over Rs 272 crore 64 lakh disappeared in this instance, which probably explains why the Rs 1,000 crore figure came into public currency to get a fix on the dimensions of this humongous scam. Yet the then Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, also holding the Fince portfolio, repeatedly denied making such uccounted sanctions. And thus public funds, which the government gets by taxing the people, were ultimately used by DHD(J) operatives to procure deadly arms from abroad like M-16 and AK 47/56 assault rifles to kill over 300 people in Dima Hasao.
As it keeps happening in Assam, the door was later opened to DHD(J) leaders to come overground and smoothly take the high road to political power. After arms surrender in October 2009 and tripartite signing of a ceasefire pact three years later, the DHD(J) disbanded. The former militant leaders had turned kingmakers to such an extent, that in October 2015, Niranjan Hojai spearheaded the BJP’s coup to take control of NCHAC. Within three months, the then Congress government got Hojai’s comrade and independent member Jewel Garlosa along with 16 other Council members — to help the Congress in reclaiming the Council. It is therefore amusing to see the Congress now trying to occupy the moral high ground by flaying the BJP for ‘sheltering the corrupt’ in the forms of Hojai and Garlosa. The State BJP has meanwhile stripped Hojai of primary membership of the party. But all such scurrying about cannot hide how these tiol parties used former militant leaders to further their cynical power games in Assam. It is therefore hardly surprising that Garlosa, when being taken away from the court after sentencing, threatened that the ceasefire with the government is now off. The NIA court has convicted the accused under various provisions of Indian Pel Code, including sections related to waging of war against the country, along with Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act relating to funding terrorism, harbouring terrorists and indulging in terrorist acts. These are serious offences that caused much bloodshed in Dima Hasao, damaged its infrastructure and set back its development by decades. This does not include the huge parallel taxation that was allowed to run in this district, with fixed sums extorted from businesses and commercial establishments, government employees, professiols and members of the public. The NIA Special Court’s verdict should be seen as a victory in the battle against corruption, but the war is far from being won. Apart from Mohit Hojai or a middle-ranking babu like RH Khan, it is noteworthy that no top politician or bureaucrat could be implicated in the scam, despite the institutiolised loot of NC Hills that ran for decades.