The Naxal arson on the site of Lloyd Metals’ Surjagad iron ore mining project in Gadchiroli last month is now understood to have its origins in the cash crunch felt by Naxals post demonetisation. A senior official told The Indian Express that Naxals were under heavy financial stress following demonetisation and had carried out the desperate attack on 80 vehicles in the mines project after failure to elicit “favourable response” from “those in control of the mining operations”.
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“As is now a well-known fact, the Naxals had suddenly found themselves in financial trouble following demonetisation. They have been trying to convert the old currency into new but have hardly found any medium to get it done. What we gather is that they had been pressuring those in control of the mining operations at Surjagad to get them some stipulated quantity of valid currency. But demonetisation had also tied down local contractors’ hands, resulting in failure to deliver. That we understand was the prime reason behind the arson,” said the official.
The official added: “Another angle, of course, was that the Naxals were under pressure to demonstrate something solid to underscore their stated opposition to the project in view of the widespread understanding that they had given a go-ahead to the project for some monetary consideration. So, they resorted to this spectacular attack.”
The whole dispute, however, was apparently not known to the police, a reason why Union Minister of State for Home Hansraj Ahir scolded the company officials “for not keeping the police informed” at a review meeting held at Gadchiroli last week.
As reported earlier by The Indian Express, the Gadchiroli leadership of Naxals were a divided lot as far as “allowing” the mine to run was concerned. While senior leader Narmada was reportedly in favour since the mine would provide employment to locals, fiery leader Gajrala Ashok alias Aitu, who surrendered to Telangana police in December 2015, was opposed to it. The mine did, however, begin operations in April last year. Aitu, incidentally, was responsible for killing of Lloyd Metal Vice President G S Dhillon in 2013 in Gadchiroli.
Another interesting fact about the Surjagad mine is presence of Irpa Usendi, a cousin of Perimili Dalam commander Sainath, who had led the December 22 assault, on the mining site as a supervisor. “He was working for mining contractor Prashant Dawe as supervisor for Rs 30,000 per month. On that day, however, Usendi was at Etapalli to collect the wages of workers,” said Inspector General of Police (Gadchiroli range) Shivaji Bodkhe. He, however, discounted the possibility of Usendi being involved with Naxals.
So, what went suddenly wrong? “We have information that the Naxals were expecting a sizeable amount from the mine authorities, which couldn’t be provided and hence the arson,” said an official.
Additional Director General of Police (Operations) Bipin Bihari visited Gadchiroli on Monday to assess the situation and plan an offensive against the Maoists. The situation in Gadchiroli had suddenly taken a turn for the worse with the arson followed by murders of three persons by Naxalites branding them as police informers, on a single day on December 30. The murders took place when Chief Minister and Home Minister Devendra Fadnavis, Union Surface Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari and Governor C Vidyasagar Rao were in Gadchiroli to inaugurate a bridge at Sironcha.
Bihari also met the family of Lacchu Madavi, 32, from Rumalkasa in Aheri tehsil, one of the three victims, who was a special police officer (SPO). Bodkhe said that the other two, Talwarsai Kunjam, 24, from Alodi village in Kotgul and Patadi Atram, 35, from Gurja village in Aheri tehsil, were also SPOs.