The arrest of the CEO and eight employees of a Hyderabad-construction firm on charges of supplying explosives to Maoists in Orissa last week was surprising in only one aspect: the involvement of explosives. In the Red belt of Orissa,Chhattisgarh,Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh,deals between Maoists and companies implementing infrastructure work are an open secret.
If talking or negotiating with Maoists is no longer taboo,the latter too have lost their distaste for any government activity,which at one time stretched to smashing streetlights. With the Centre and states pouring funds into infrastructure works in Naxal areas,both sides see an opportunity to make money: the companies by getting the contracts,and the Maoists by armtwisting them to pay up.
The negotiations are helped by the fact that the talking heads on both sides are likely to be speaking Telugu: 90 per cent of the companies awarded contracts to build roads,small dams and irrigation projects in Orissa,Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra are owned by those from Andhra Pradesh,while most of the Naxal cadres too belong to the state.
Andhra firms learnt to work with Maoists at a time when 21 of the 23 districts in Andhra were Naxalite-affected,and these skills police officers who work with anti-Maoist agencies vouch come in handy to strike win-win deals. The going rate generally is 2-3 per cent of the cost of the project.
Till 2001-02,Maoists based in north Telangana districts mostly made their money in thousands from Tendu leaf contractors. In 2004,they turned to civil contractors,setting fixed amounts area wise. Now the deals are worth lakhs,and in at least in one instance,Rs 1.5 crore. The Orissa arrests last week were perhaps the first known instance of explosives changing hands.
Firms know better than to protest,particularly after a road contractor working in Gadchiroli was shot dead in November 2009. Killings,however,are rare as a few bombs thrown at machinery generally do the trick. Sometimes,even these bombings can just be mock attacks to keep up appearances as the more unpleasant secrets remain under wraps.