BY RSN SINGH
The recent killing of nun turned activist Sister Valsa John in Jharkhand by a large mob has once again exposed the vitiated social and economic dynamics in India’s mineral heartland wherein the Mafia, Maoists, Corporate or Mining Industry are either principal players or adversaries or collaborators. Whichever the scenario, one thing is common i.e. the extremely debilitated writ of the State. In this case the protagonists are the traditional coal Mafia; the new mineral mafia, Maoists; and Panem Coal Mine Ltd, a private concern. The tenfold increase in coal price in the last five years i.e. from Rs 300 per ton to Rs 3000 has only exacerbated violence and criminality.
In April this year then former Home Secretary G K Pillai had candidly admitted in a seminar organized by Confederation of Indian Industries (CII): “Industry is looking at quick profits. We have seen this happening…I am frank in saying we have seen some 60 to 70 percent money that Maoists get is coming from industrialists. Mr. Pillai is correct, but not entirely. Indeed it is true that some corporate houses and business enterprises relish the Maoist controlled economic dispensation, but there are others who did resist Maoist terror for long but caved in as the State failed to redeem them. Mr. Pillai’s statement smacked of the diffidence in the government in re-establishing its writ in the areas impacted by Maoist terror to check the growing Maoist-Corporate nexus. For India, this phenomenon has pernicious security implications, both internal and external.
Resisted, then capitulated
The menace has engaged the focus and much concern of the people after an Essar Group official of the rank of General Manager, DVCS Verma, was arrested on 27 September this year at Raipur for allegedly paying Rs. 15 Lacs as ‘protection money’ to a Maoist conduit, one Linga Ram Kodopi. The money was reportedly paid to Maoists to allow the company to operate the 267 km iron ore slurry supply line unhindered.
The Essar-Maoist nexus also figured in the Wikileaks, which quoted a cable dated 11 January 2010 from the US consulate in Mumbai: “A senior representative from Essar, a major industrial company with large mining and steel-related facilities in Chhattisgarh told Congenoff (the Consul General’s Office) that the company pays the Maoists ‘a significant amount’ not to harm or interfere with their operations.”
The plight of the Essar Group should be instructive to the policy-makers. This Group, it appears, after much resistance to Maoist intimidation eventually capitulated. In November 2009, about 100 armed Maoists had triggered a landmine at the guest house of Essar Steel at Chitrakonda of Malkangiri district in Orissa and locked up company engineers and employees. It was a clear demonstration of the helplessness and inability of the State to protect a legitimate economic entity. The government did not consider it imperative to re-impose its writ with all its available means and resolve. The fate of Essar Group is shared by most corporate houses operating in the ‘Red Corridor’. Most of them have capitulated and some of them subsequently learnt ways to illegally thrive and grow under the circumstances.
An important Maoist leader, Narla Ravi Sharma, in-charge of Bihar-Jharkhand Special Area Committee, arrested in 2009, said during his interrogation that mining, manufacturing and metal industries in Maoist dominated areas are heavily levied and these entities have the stark choice of either shutting down or acquiesce to the demands of the Maoists.
Mutually beneficial partnership
There is yet another category in the corporate sector which reconciled and submitted to the writ of the Maoists and then turned it into a mutually beneficial partnership. The physical and economic writ of the government in these Maoist-controlled areas extends only to the extent of giving lease or permission for mining and commercial activities. It is at this stage when politicians essay a critical and overwhelming role. Subsequently, the Maoist-Corporate nexus takes over.
One Raju Mahto, in a PIL filed in Jharkhand High Court in 2008, has alleged that the distinguished corporate concern Usha Martin Limited was granted 158 hectares in 2005 as Iron Ore mining lease without the clearance of Ministry of Environment in Ghatkuri Reserve Forest in district Singhbhum. The concerned ministry, the petitioner contends, was granted approval only for 29 hectares, which was deliberately kept undefined to ‘reach advantage’ to Usha Martin Limited. The Company allegedly extended its mining activities over an area of Reserve Forest, upon which it has no lease.
Apart from castigating some politicians for providing patronage to the illegal route, the petitioner has alleged nexus between Maoists and Usha Martin in illegal mining activities.
A hard core Maoist Raghunath Hembrom @ Birsen @ Nirbhay, who was arrested by the Police in 2007 in his confessional statement to the police, revealed that Usha Martin Limited was illegally giving huge sum of money to the Maoists.
The confessional statement of the Maoist leader also highlights the method and network of economic terror by the Maoists. He confessed of having joined the Maoist Armed Cadre in 1993. To begin with, his main task was to diffuse Maoist propaganda and looting arms from non-sympathizers. He pompously admitted that he did not remember as to how many weapons he snatched or looted.
Between 1993 and 2007, he was once arrested in the year 2000 from a hospital and was released on bail in the year 2005. The legal aid was provided by a lawyer on the regular payroll of the Maoists. The five-year jail term of Hembrom did not smite his conscience, or alter his attitude or dampen his commitment to the Maoist cause. Hembrom studied only till the Class V but had rapid rise in the armed hierarchy of the Maoists. Out of prison he was back to waging economic terror.
In pursuance of that terror Hembrom became adept in use of explosives and targeted schools, police personnel or anything which could enhance or compound terror. In one instance he confessed to have killed 12 CRPF personnel. He also confessed to have carried out indiscriminate firing on a railway station and later on a police station. This tactics, he said, is adopted by the Maoists to re-impose their writ whenever they were rendered weak following reverses at the hands of the security forces.
Terror, therefore, is the key to the extortion industry of the Maoists. The extortion ambit of the Maoists includes mine-owners, corporate houses, crushers, contractors, builders, etc. The local Maoist organization, Hembrom said, get only a small portion of the levy, the major chunk goes to the leaders in higher committee based in cities like Ranchi and Kolkata.
In his confession, Hembrom also listed the amount of money received allegedly as levy from various corporate houses and business concerns. They are: Thakurani Mines – 15 lakh, Shivani Steel – 8 lakh, Shyam Minerals – 3 lakh, Ore India – 12 lakh, Swati International – 6 lakh, Sai Enterprises – 5 lakh, Triveni Minerals – 4 lakh, Shivshakti Minerals – 3 lakh, Torian Iron Steel – 25 lakh, Jaidurga Minerals – 6 lakh, Balaji Minerals – 5 lakh, Sharda Crushing – 20 lakh, Sharda Periworks – 15 lakh, Lohars Exporters & Services – 15 lakh, Ranguta Mines – 25 lakh, Usha Martin Ghatkuri – 25 lakh, Isco Contractor Vinay Parsi – 35 lakh, Ranguta Company Ghatkuri – 25 lakh, Padam Kumar Jain Mines Thakurani Rajabera – 30 lakh, Anil Kumar Nirmal Kumar Ghatkuri – 25 lakh, Shah Brothers Krampada – 25 lakh, Chandrapraksh Uttrabaljori – 5 lakh.
Information given during interrogation cannot be treated as completely authentic and could be insinuation but the growing Corporate-Maoist nexus can no longer be denied and be left unaddressed.
Incase the level of terror fails to humble corporate and business houses; Maoists have no remorse then in resorting to murder of innocents. Four security guards of Abhijit Group were killed by Maoists in their formidable bastion of Latehar in Jharkhand because the Company refused to give-in to extortion threats. The Company is engaged in setting up a power plant in the area. Given the vital public benefit of the project, the Company had counted on the on the passive if not active support of the Maoists.
The economic terror of the Maoists and their extortion industry is therefore not for succor and progress of the deprived people but to gain financial muscle to incrementally capture the State.
Indian State under threat
The Corporate-Maoist nexus has imparted huge impetus to the extortion industry and financial and political muscle of the Maoists. Increasingly, this nexus is influencing elections. The social and developmental obligations, enjoined upon the Corporate Houses in their respective areas of operations, are being diverted to the coffers of the Maoists. The nexus is generating a staggering parallel economy, which in turn is boosting the armed might, and internal and external clout of the Maoists. It is undermining the Indian State as such.
The vulnerability of the Indian State to the Corporate-Maoist nexus acquires acute strategic proportions in the backdrop of the fact that it is a phenomenon obtaining in the mineral heartland of India. The increasing control of the Maoists on supply of strategic raw materials is now palpably impacting the country. Many thermal power plants in the country are being starved of coal due to disruptions and economic diktats by the Maoists. The Planning Commission had recently admitted that “Coal movement from mine to railway loading point stopped during night time in CCL area.” As a result the loading of coal reduced from 90,000 tonne to 50,000 tonne.
The Maoists have acquired huge financial and political stake in illegal mining by the Corporate or the mining industry. The illegal mining is under the protection of the Maoists, and the writ of the State is absent. Illegally mined iron ore is reportedly being shipped to China from the Haldia port. A large part of this money earned through illegal export is being used to buy weapons from China and in expansion of the Red Corridor.
Consequently, the arsenal of the Maoists is getting lethal and sophisticated by the day, and so are their training facilities. The full circle of journey of strategic minerals between India and China, i.e. Indian Iron Ore to Chinese weapons, facilitated by the Maoists, is a threat in being.
The emerging linkages between the Maoists, Northeast insurgents, Lashkar-e-Toiba, and China are attributable to the growing financial muscle of the Maoists.
Recently in July 2011, the security forces undertook operations in Saranda forest in West Singhbhum, and Latehar’s Gotag forests to reclaim the so-called ‘Liberated Zones’ from the Maoists, who over the years had gained control over more than 50 villages in the two forested areas.
The government has embarked on a laudable plan with respect to Maoist strongholds, i.e. ‘clear hold and develop’. This strategy is being pursued in the Saranda Forest area in earnest. The Home Minister recently (November 9, 2011) visited the area. In October this year, the security forces claimed to have liberated 56 villages with over 36,000-population from the Maoists.
The ‘Saranda Action Plan’ prepared by the Rural Development Minister envisages supply of solar lanterns, pre-fabricated houses, and construction of bridges with the help of the army. The objective of the government is also to reach directly and deliver to the people government-sponsored welfare and development schemes such as Old Age Pension and Indira Awas Yojna. The Maoist leadership has warned locals of dire consequences from availing benefits from the government. Two villagers assisting the government machinery in delivery of ‘old age pension’ were murdered by the Maoists in the first week of November this year.
The Maoist terror, therefore, continues unabated in these areas. In the Saranda and Gotag forests Maoists continue to act like government officials. In fact, the number of Kangaroo Courts of the Maoists have increased manifold following the operations.
The Maoist-Corporate nexus continues.
The inference is clear, i.e. the Maoist-controlled areas at best has been partially and temporarily reclaimed. Without total reclamation, there can be no reach out to the people and therefore no development. The sincerity and resolve of the government cannot be faulted, but the inadequacy is with the tools that it is using. The Maoist stranglehold in these areas has been obdurate to police and para-military. For complete and enduring reclamation of the ‘Liberated Zones’, the Indian Army needs to be inducted, without which the Corporate-Maoist nexus will continue to grow and consume new areas and new people, and finally the State.
Finally, the state must realize that business does not prosper in a vacuum and business must contemplate about its long term existence without State.
(RSN Singh is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research & Analysis Wing. The author of two books: Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and Military Factor in Pakistan, he is also a guest blogger for Canary Trap)