Red River Runs Dry

De­mon­eti­sa­tion has paral­ysed the Maoist ex­tor­tion econ­omy in Jhark­hand. The net is clos­ing on the des­per­ate rebels

India Today - - INSIDE - By Amitabh Sri­vas­tava

But for a spe­cific in­put, the cops wouldn’t have stopped the two Tata Su­mos. Noth­ing about the two ve­hi­cles seemed to arouse sus­pi­cion. They were headed to­wards the Kathikund block of Jhark­hand’s Dumka district on the West Ben­gal bor­der, 305 km north­east of the state cap­i­tal Ranchi. But the joint team of the Sashas­tra Seema Bal (a para­mil­i­tary force which guards the Indo-Nepal and Indo-Bhutan in­ter­na­tional bor­ders, be­sides be­ing in­volved in coun­terin­sur­gency op­er­a­tions) and the Jhark­hand po­lice were quite cer­tain about the tip-off.

There were seven peo­ple in all, but the po­lice were most in­ter­ested in the pas­sen­ger in the back of one of the ve­hi­cles. Wear­ing a muf­fler, jacket and blue jeans, he was try­ing to pass him­self off as a Ben­gali. The man in their cus­tody was self-styled Maoist zone com­man­der Jagdish Man­dal, with a Rs 10 lakh bounty on his head. A cav­ity search of the Sumo yielded two coun­try-made kat­tas, a dozen live car­tridges, seven mo­bile phones and sev­eral ATM cards. But un­der the front seat of the Sumo and the spare wheel lay the real catch—Rs 31.53 lakh in old Rs 500 and 1,000 cur­rency notes. The Novem­ber 28 seizure was the largest from the Maoists since Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi an­nounced the scrap­ping of large de­nom­i­na­tion notes on Novem­ber 8.

Of­fi­cial es­ti­mates say Jhark­hand’s Maoists (with a cadre of over 2,000 spread out among 17 splin­ter groups) used to run an ex­tor­tion em­pire worth Rs 200 crore an­nu­ally. The cash es­sen­tially al­lowed them to run their jun­gle fief­doms. It bought arms and am­mu­ni­tion, medicines, funded the le­gal cases of jailed com­rades and helped their ur­ban op­er­a­tions be­sides, of course, pay­ing salaries.

The de­mon­eti­sa­tion move has, for now, paral­ysed this un­der­ground econ­omy. The panic was ev­i­dent as the in­sur­gents even started trav­el­ling out of their jun­gle hide­outs in a bid to try and get their cur­rency caches con­verted into le­gal ten­der be­fore they were ren­dered use­less.

The des­per­a­tion has yielded a har­vest of tip-offs. With Man­dal’s men scout­ing around for bank ac­count hold­ers to de­posit the cash, po­lice in­for­mants got crack­ing. Man­dal, the self-styled zonal com­man­der of the East Bi­har-San­thal Par­ganas re­gion, was in­ter­cepted as he was mov­ing his stash to be dis­trib­uted among the two dozen

‘vol­un­teers’ iden­ti­fied by gang mem­bers. “We also launched a sus­tained cam­paign in ar­eas of their in­flu­ence, ask­ing vil­lagers not to de­posit Maoist money in their ac­counts,” says Jhark­hand IG (Op­er­a­tions) Man­vin­der Singh Bha­tia, who heads the anti-Maoist op­er­a­tions. A se­nior in­come tax of­fi­cer in Ranchi also con­firmed re­ports of Nax­alites forc­ing or­di­nary cit­i­zens to de­posit ex­torted money in their ac­counts. “Ei­ther way, the money is back in the sys­tem. We are procur­ing de­tails, and ready­ing to ask ques­tions,” he says.

EASY PICK­INGS

The Com­mu­nist Party of In­dia-Maoist was formed in Septem­ber 2004 with the merger of two ul­tra­left groups, the Andhra Pradesh­based Peo­ple’s War Group and the Jhark­hand-based Maoist Com­mu­nist Cen­tre. But be­fore long, ide­o­log­i­cal and other dif­fer­ences cropped up and to­day Jhark­hand it­self has over a dozen splin­ter groups with their own cadre and ar­eas of in­flu­ence. Over the years, ide­ol­ogy also seems to have taken a back­seat to the more press­ing lure of lu­cre. Maoist-re­lated vi­o­lence has re­sulted in over 2,000 deaths since the state was carved out of Bi­har in Novem­ber 2000. Those who have fallen to Naxal bul­lets in­clude then MP Su­nil Ma­hato (in March 2007) and two MLAs, Ramesh Singh Munda and Ma­hen­dra Singh.

The Maoist threat out­wardly ap­pears to be on the wane. There have been no at­tacks on po­lice sta­tions in the past two years, a dip­stick used to as­sess the level of vi­o­lence. In re­al­ity, how­ever, their ac­tiv­ity has lapsed into a lan­guid ex­tor­tion econ­omy which the Maoists call “levy and

tax”. No one is ex­empt in their fiefs, from govern­ment con­trac­tors, busi­ness­men and in­dus­tri­al­ists to even govern­ment ser­vants.

The rate is usu­ally 20 per cent of what­ever a con­tract is worth. ‘Levy’ is a lu­cra­tive busi­ness in a new state like Jhark­hand where in­fra­struc­ture build­ing is a con­stant process. Ev­ery Maoist ‘area com­man­der’ is ex­pected to raise about Rs 8-10 crore ev­ery year. A Maoist col­lec­tion re­ceipt shows dif­fer­ent heads like sup­port, penalty and tax un­der which the rebels clas­sify the levies they ex­tort.

Jhark­hand’s Rs 63,502 crore an­nual bud­get for 2016-17 in­cluded an al­lo­ca­tion of Rs 37,065.35 crore for de­vel­op­men­tal and wel­fare ac­tiv­i­ties. In this, the Maoists mostly tar­get the Rs 7,201 crore worth of con­tracts for build­ing pan­chayat sec­re­tar­iats, roads and other projects in ru­ral ar­eas. In­tel­li­gence Bureau es­ti­mates peg the an­nual levy at be­tween Rs 60 and 80 crore, but top po­lice sources in Jhark­hand be­lieve it to be as high as Rs 200 crore.

The lure of easy ex­tor­tion money is so strong that a for­mer state min­is­ter is to­day ac­cused of float­ing a pri­vate army for ex­tor­tion. Congress leader Yo­gen­dra Sao, who joined as a min­is­ter in the pre­vi­ous He­mant Soren govern­ment in Au­gust 2013, is ac­cused of form­ing an ex­tor­tion unit called the Jhark­hand Tigers which ex­torted up to Rs 50 lakh a month. (Sao, cur­rently jailed in an­other case, was forced to re­sign in Septem­ber 2014.)

Just be­fore de­mon­eti­sa­tion, the Lohardaga po­lice on Novem­ber 4 re­cov­ered Rs 25 lakh and ar­rested one Rohit Ya­dav, the brother of CPIMaoist com­man­der Nakul Ya­dav, as he was tak­ing de­liv­ery of ‘levy’ money from two bauxite trans­porters. “As we probed the links, we found four more bank ac­counts for Rohit Ya­dav, with more than Rs 61 lakh in de­posits. The ac­counts have since been frozen,” says Kartik S., Lohardaga su­per­in­ten­dent of po­lice.

The state’s unique lo­ca­tion—23 of the 24 dis­tricts share bor­ders with other states—help the Maoists “shoot and scoot” and also park funds out­side their area of op­er­a­tions.

Po­lice say the splin­ter groups siphon off sub­stan­tial por­tions of the ex­tor­tion pro­ceeds into their own pocket. Some of them even have fam­ily mem­bers run­ning le­git­i­mate busi­nesses like ve­hi­cle and con­struc­tion equip­ment rentals.

“While CPI-Maoist com­man­ders siphon off at least half the ex­tor­tion pro­ceeds, their splin­ters like Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Front of In­dia (PLFI) and Tri­tiya Pras­tuti Com­mit­tee (TPC) are noth­ing but crim­i­nals pos­ing as Nax­alites,” says Bha­tia. “They are in it only for the money.” Of late, this has also fu­elled in­ternecine wars among prom­i­nent groups like the PLFI, TPC, Jhark­hand Pras­tuti Com­mit­tee (JPC) and their erst­while par­ent, the CPI-Maoist. It made up 74, or nearly half the 155 fa­tal­i­ties in Left-wing ex­trem­ist-linked vi­o­lence, in 2014-15. The worst frat­ri­cides have pit­ted the Maoists against the TPC and PLFI.

AFTER THE NOTE BAN

The post-de­mon­eti­sa­tion cur­rency seizures have, for the first time, given po­lice of­fi­cials a deeper un­der­stand­ing of the Maoists’ ex­tor­tion network and how it has fed off an in­sur­gency that pre­dates the 16-year-old state. Po­lice had an early in­di­ca­tion of the cash chaos among the Maoists just a day after de­mon­eti­sa­tion was an­nounced. The rebels started us­ing petrol pumps

and bank ac­counts to clean up their cash, money laun­der­ing routes which have now be­come com­mon­place across the coun­try.

On Novem­ber 9, Ranchi po­lice re­cov­ered Rs 25.38 lakh, all in bun­dles of Rs 1,000 cur­rency notes, from a petrol pump owner and his three as­so­ciates, as he was about to de­posit the money in var­i­ous bank ac­counts of the State Bank of In­dia’s Bero branch. The money was traced to PLFI chief Di­nesh Gope, 35, an army de­serter who formed the out­fit in 2007, at­tract­ing other cadre of the CPI-Maoist.

The money was the first in­stal­ment of a Rs 1 crore stash that Gope (said to be hid­ing some­where on the Jhark­hand-Odisha bor­der) wanted Chan­drashekhar to de­posit in var­i­ous bank ac­counts. “The Nax­alite leader ob­vi­ously thought a cash de­posit by the owner of a petrol pump would not raise eye­brows,” says Ranchi SSP Kuldeep Dwivedi.

This is not the first time Maoists have used le­git­i­mate chan­nels to laun­der their loot. In April 2015, po­lice froze eight bank ac­counts be­long­ing to Parmesh­war Gan­jhu, com­man­der of the TPC, an­other splin­ter group. Gan­jhu and his wife Yashoda Devi had opened these ac­counts and po­lice dis­cov­ered cash trans­ac­tions of over Rs 1 crore within four months in Bank of In­dia’s Tandwa branch. Maoists be­gan shy­ing away from banks after this in­ci­dent, but now they seem to have run out of op­tions.

Post-de­mon­eti­sa­tion, I-T sleuths and po­lice have also un­earthed Rs 11 crore parked in five bank ac­counts of Bank of In­dia’s GB Road branch in Gaya district of Bi­har, which bor­ders the Naxal-in­fested Jhark­hand dis­tricts of Hazarib­agh and Cha­tra. The amount, said to be black money de­posited in old notes post-de­mon­eti­sa­tion, may have a link to the rebels.

The sleuths are also in­ves­ti­gat­ing an­other 50 ac­counts and ex­pect the

THE RATE IS USU­ALLY 20 PER CENT OF WHAT­EVER A CON­TRACT IS WORTH. EV­ERY MAOIST ‘AREA COM­MAN­DER’ IS EX­PECTED TO RAISE Rs 8-10 CRORE A YEAR

tainted amount to cross the Rs 100 crore mark by the time probes con­clude. A cot­ton mill owner in Gaya is be­lieved to have opened these ac­counts in which scrapped Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 cur­rency notes have been de­posited. He is sus­pected of de­posit­ing Maoist money that was routed from Jhark­hand.

The de­mon­eti­sa­tion has come as a ma­jor set­back for the Maoists. Many of their fronts and bank ac­counts have been ex­posed, and the cops have seized over Rs 1 crore in cash alone. A de­tailed as­sess­ment of the var­i­ous sus­pect de­posits is sure to re­veal more de­tails on where the rest of the ill-got­ten money has been parked. That said, for the Maoists, this is most likely only a tem­po­rary set­back. In­deed, lat­est re­ports sug­gest they have al­ready started ex­tort­ing in new cur­rency notes. On De­cem­ber 19, the Cha­tra district po­lice ar­rested a stone crusher unit em­ployee at a high­way mo­tel, as he was wait­ing for a Maoist agent to come and col­lect Rs 7.4 lakh in new cur­rency. Hav­ing re­alised the drop point had been ex­posed, the lat­ter did not turn up to col­lect the money.

Fol­low the writer on Twitter @amitabh1975

PROP­ERTY PA­PERS DRIV­ING LI­CENCES CREDIT CARDS

SOM­NATH SEN

RE­CEIPTS PAN CARDS CHEQUE BOOKS WEAPONS LOHARDAGA SP KARTIK S. DIS­PLAYS THE CUR­RENCY, GUNS AND OTHER MA­TE­RIAL SEIZED FROM AR­RESTED NAX­ALITES AT HIS OF­FICE

Graphic by TANMOY CHAKRABORTY

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