Lalit Mehta, a RTI activist, was asphyxiated and beaten on Wednesday, May 14, 2008 in the Kandra jungles of Palamu district in Jharkhand. When the Police found him the next day, he had a belt around his neck and his face was smashed beyond recognition. He was buried without any efforts from the Police to identify him on that same day. Later, community members exhumed his body and took it to their village, where they showed their respects in a ceremony. They could identify him by his clothes and shoes.
Lalit was a 36-year-old civil engineer who dedicated his life to fight corruption in Palamu. In 1990, he developed a software to prevent overestimation of civil works by the government, which made it very difficult for contractors and state officials to make money fraudulently.
As part of his dedicated work, Lalit taught community members about their rights (especially their right to food) and to perform social audits in order to identify the misuse of public funds, for example, the deviation of foodgrains that were meant for the public distribution system. Lalit was part of the team that performed one of the first social audits of the National Rural Employment Guarantee ACT (NREGA) in May 2006.
He also worked with the community to build 125 small irrigation projects at half the cost as part of a strategy to overcome droughts in the district.
Lalit was secretary of Vikash Sahyog Kendra (VSK), an NGO engaged with organizing and educating communities on their rights and entitlements in accessing land and livelihood resources. VSK works especially with poor and marginal families from the Adivasi and Dalit communities. There, Lalit led volunteers in Chatarpur to verify muster rolls and wage distribution among villagers, which led to the discovery that the project to build a pond in the block was fake. Among the discoveries were forged villagers’ signatures and job cards made in the name of villagers who had emigrated or died. As a result of his work, Lalit received death threats.
His death was disregarded by the police department as a case of highway robbery because Lalit’s motorbike was not found. Several civil society members protested and sent emails, asking the Central Bureau of Investigation for justice in Lalit’s case.
In January 2009, the dead body of the prime suspect of Lalit’s murder (the police still claimed that it was related to a robbery) was found near Chatarpur block. They reportedly continue to investigate, but since then no new results have been reported.