New Delhi: Across 35 districts of India’s Left Wing Extremism (LWE) impacted states, infrastructure development is the central focus of the union government’s intervention to deal with the crisis posed by Naxalites.
However, the Naxalites have terrorised the project contractors and turned this into means to generate illegal funds for their movement.
In a written reply to a question in the Lok Sabha on 18 July, the home ministry stated that the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and other LWE outfits “collect Rs140 crore illegal funds through levy and extortion from road contractors, brick-kiln owners, illegal mining operators, contractors involved in government works and developmental schemes."
While mining contractors in these states – especially Chhattisgarh – have also been bearing the brunt of extortion and theft by the Naxals, the ministry stated that other underground operators such as the opium cultivators, ganja smugglers and tendu patta contractors as well as labour involved in bamboo cultivation have also been forced to pay a fee to the Naxals.
“The Naxals have come into the iron ore mines, torched the conveyor belts and other equipment to send out a message to the government that they are against them. The Naxals have come into the mines from the ravines and stolen the explosives and detonators which have caused huge losses to the mining projects," said Arun Kumar Shukla, executive director, National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region.
Security forces reveal that the Naxal economy has, since long, been thriving on the tacit agreement between project operators and the Naxalites – a factor that policy makers would find hard to resolve.
“Everyone who works in these regions, be it the farmers or the mining and quarry operators, know that they have to give the Naxals a cut. If the cut is given, then the projects run smoothly for about 15-20 days, after which the process is repeated. If they don’t give a cut, there is bloodshed and to keep peace, that commission or cut is given to the Naxals," said a senior CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) official, who did not wish to be named.
At present – sanctioned by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA), in December 2016 -- a Rs11,700 crore rural roads project is underway across the 35 districts that account for 90% of left-wing extremist violence. This ‘Road Connectivity Project for Left Wing Extremism Affected Areas’ project entails construction of 5,400km of roads and 126 bridges in areas such as Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and the Odisha-Andhra border.
However these projects have been disrupted after Naxal cadres started planting Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) along designated routes.
While this year alone, saw 37 soldiers of the CRPF providing security cover to these infrastructure projects were killed in March and April in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district, home ministry data reveals that till 30 June, the Naxals have hit infrastructure projects 34 times, across the states of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha.
“There have been attacks on mobile towers, mining infrastructure, railway properties, government buildings, schools, roads and bridges. The quantum of damage to economic infrastructure is being investigated by the states and the Centre has been working on strategies to provide maximum safety to the people working on these projects," said a senior home ministry official, requesting anonymity.