While the BJP-led governments at the Centre and state have claimed that demonetisation hit Maoist finances, documents recovered from the site of an encounter in Abhujmaad on November 7 show that they successfully exchanged demonetised Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes adding up to Rs 2 lakh.
D M Awasthi, Special Director General, Anti-Naxal Operations, Chhattisgarh, confirmed to The Indian Express that at least 20 pages of handwritten accounts, spanning several years, were recovered after the encounter in the jungles of Abhujmaad in Narayanpur district on November 7 in which six Maoists were reported to have been killed. A postscript in the ‘balance sheet’, maintained by the Nelnar area janatana sarkar (“local government”), for 2017 states: “Note bandi ke dauran 2 lakh jama kiya manta (Deposited 2 lakh during note ban).” While the year’s total expenditure has been put at Rs 46,720, there is a line which says that a sewing machine worth Rs 16,000 was damaged during an attack by security forces.
The handwritten ‘balance sheets’, for 2013 to 2017, include sub-heads like expenditure incurred by the “vikas shakha”, “raksha shakha”, “school sanskriti shakha”, “jan sampark shakha” and so on. There are separate pages on expenditure incurred on “community infrastructure”, such as building of wells and small checkdams as well.
Awasthi, however, maintained that demonetisation had adversely affected Maoist operations in Chhattisgarh. “It is true that Maoist groups would have exchanged some amount of the demonetised cash. They could have used villagers, forcing them to deposit cash in their bank accounts, as also contractors who they levy taxes from. After demonetisation, we had to deal with the situation sensitively, and did not make any arrests. But we did have information on certain bank accounts, details of which were given to the authorities concerned, and some money was seized as well,” he said.
According to police data, post-demonetisation, the Chhattisgarh police seized banned notes adding up to Rs 1.05 crore from 27 people, including Rs 44 lakh from one person, across seven of the worst Maoist-hit districts in the state. “Although they would have exchanged some notes, and have an ecosystem that supports them in the region, I do feel that demonetisation affected their operations. We will compile data at the end of this year, and only then will we be able to say with certainty, but there is a sense that in operations in areas that were hitherto untouched, the Maoists are either avoiding an exchange of fire or preserving their ammunition. This is one indication of low finances,” said Awasthi.
But some other police officers, who spoke to The Indian Express on condition of anonymity, said it was unlikely that Maoist finances had taken a huge hit after demonetisation. “Their lack of ammunition is possibly a supply chain problem as opposed to lack of funds post-demonetisation. While they would have faced some issues in terms of liquid cash in the beginning, and perhaps some effect, what people don’t understand is just how complicated the Maoist ecosystem is. In a wide area, spanning several districts, they hold sway over villagers. These villagers have largely always had an entirely cash economy… Now, when a poor tribal stands in line with a wad of notes he claims he has accumulated over his lifetime, how does one find out that it is not his cash,” said an officer.
“This balance sheet is only of one janatana sarkar. Every Maoist organisation, from the special zonal committee to the janatana sarkar, has separate accounts and would have exchanged their notes. We cannot even begin to quantify the amount,” he said. Narayanpur district, one of the worst-hit districts in the country, has as many as 91 operational janatana sarkars, according to police records.