TEMPLE TREASURE RIDDLE
Of ULFA's Rs 300 crore & 300 kg gold stash, tantriks and army vs police tug-of-war
Guwahati/Mirza, April 16: Six years back, Rani Tea Estate in Kamrup had made headlines after its proprietor Mridul Kumar Bhattacharjee shot dead a class VIII student and injured six others while trying to disperse a crowd that had gathered near his bungalow to protest against his alleged assault on a woman a day before. The tea estate, closed down after the incident and reopened by Bhattacharjee's son in July last year, is back in the news again, this time over a mystery surrounding the alleged disappearance of huge amounts of cash, gold and weapons hidden at the premises of a Kali temple inside the tea estate.
Two days after the Supreme Court, hearing a petition filed by a former military intelligence officer, sought a probe into the reported disappearance of Rs 300 crore in cash, 300 kg of gold and four Ak-47 rifles from the shrine at the tea estate, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi today cast doubts if any such incident had every occurred.
"I have doubts. We don't have any information on it. If the army had specific inputs, why didn't it search the place during that time? They can do it under the AFSPA," Gogoi said when asked about the apex court's observations.
Locals, however, suspect the booty fell into the wrong hands.
"It was dug out before army personnel reached the place. We suspect top police officials are involved (in lifting the cash and gold). They (police) know everything. They hushed up the matter later. A proper investigation will unearth the truth," Dinesh Das, a local peasant leader, told this newspaper.
Hearing a PIL filed by retired military intelligence officer Manoj Kumar Kaushal, a Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice TS Thakur had two days back described as "startling" the disappearance of the cash, gold and guns.
The petitioner has alleged that the stash was smuggled out of the temple by about a dozen individuals in connivance with the police in June, 2014, hours before an army team, acting on a specific input, had reached the place.
The apex court has sought a report from the government by May 6.
Dinesh Das, also the general secretary of Sangrami Krishak Shramik Sangha and garik Adhikar Suraksha Samity, recalled that locals had seen many suspicious people in the garden in May, 2014, a month before the incident.
"A number of tantriks were seen in the tea estate during the month. I still remember one rayan Kachari of Panichanda village adjacent to the estate and a tantrik with the surme Barua who also works in the housing board. Tea garden workers had told me that the tantriks used to perform rituals at the temple at night and even organize feasts for the workers. When we protested, the tantriks stopped coming to the place," Das recalled.
However, he said, even after that locals often spotted vehicles of police and army men and other suspected persons, including SULFA men near the temple premises, often during night-time.
"On the morning of June 3 that year, workers told me that they saw a large hole - resembling a tunnel - adjacent to the temple. It was about six feet wide. I immediately informed the then Kamrup SP Indrani Barua. She advised me to lodge an FIR which I immediately did. In the FiR filed at Rani outpost, I med two persons," Das said.
A few days later, Das was approached by another self-styled tantrik - Manoj. "He asked me if I knew anything about the booty. After he failed to get anything out of me, he told me he would move the Supreme Court. I feel this is the same Manoj (the army officer who filed the PIL)," he said.
Even pro-talks ULFA leaders, including one Jiten Kalita of lbari, had contacted him and wanted to know if he knew anything about the treasure.
The retired army officer Manoj Kumar Kaushal had served in Assam from 2006 until 2009, when he retired from the intelligence wing of the Indian armed forces.
The owner of Rani Tea Estate Mridul Bhattacharya had reportedly collected money from proprietors of tea estates and gave it to the ULFA as protection money. He was also allegedly involved in the smuggling of gold from Myanmar. Bhattacharya and his wife were later murdered by tea workers at his Bordumsa Tea Estate - another garden owned by him in Tinsukia - about four years ago.
Kaushal said an informer told him two years ago about the treasure hidden in a vault below the idol.
After being informed about the cache, the army decided to recover it on June 1, 2014. But when soldiers reached the spot, they were shocked to find a gaping hole and the treasure missing.
Kaushal visited the spot later, spped photographs and gathered intelligence on possible suspects.
Kaushal, in his petition, med 13 people whose call records showed they were in touch with each other since the time the theft likely took place, and were diverting huge amounts of money through their bank accounts.
"It is clear that these people hatched the conspiracy and took the treasure out by digging a hole from outside the temple, which is clearly depicted in the photographs," Kaushal alleged.
The petitioner said that despite informing the State's inspector-general of police (law and order), he got no cooperation, and that gave rise to suspicions that top officials from the department were involved in the smuggling. He also offered his assistance to any team constituted to hunt for the missing treasure.
Meanwhile, a police team from Rani outpost today visited the spot.