Exactly a week after the Jnaneswari Express derailed on sabotaged tracks killing 148 people, the first arrest has been made in the case. Khagen Mahato, who was nabbed on Thursday night and produced in court on Friday, owns the vehicle that ferried the track saboteurs as they went about their deadly mission. Khagen is a member of the Maoist-backed People's Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCPA).
Police had claimed that Bapi Mahato and Umakanta Mahato — two local PCPA leaders — were behind the sabotage.
The CID, too, confirmed the role of the duo after it took over investigation. Sources in the CID said on the evening of May 27, a few hours before the tragedy, Manik Mahato, a PCPA activist at Murabani village near the accident site, had called up Bapi.
“We cannot tolerate the torture carried out by the joint forces any longer. Today, they came to the village, beat up villagers and ransacked homes. They also picked up some youths from the area. You said the media would arrive at the village and see for themselves, but none came,” Manik said.
Bapi's reply was chilling. “We will turn Manikpara into a graveyard. Tomorrow, all the media across the country will arrive here.”
The conversation indicates Bapi finalised the sabotage plan the same evening. Bapi then called up some local PCPA activists and asked them to gather near a temple, probably the one at Guptamani, near the accident site. Bapi's next call was to Khagen, who hails from Chhanapara village of Manikpara. and owns a small goods carrier van he himself drives.
His wife, Chhabi, was a CPM panchayat member from 2003-2008.