Two years after police in Dantewada accused Essar of paying extortion money to Maoists, the Chhattisgarh police on Friday said middlemen allegedly acting for large companies had held meetings with the rebels to negotiate the lifting of a de facto ban imposed by them on mining in the region.
Police claimed the middlemen paid large sums of facilitation money to the Maoists, besides supplying them with mobile phones and laptops allegedly purchased from a prominent electronics goods store in Raipur. The Maoists urban network, police said, also involved government contractors, petty traders and local sarpanches.
According to the police, the middlemen, besides liaisoning between the companies and Maoists, had managed to grab a majority of government contracts in Kanker, and gave a cut to the rebels a claim that questions the sanctity of the entire development work undertaken by the government in the region.
The Chhattisgarh SIB has arrested eight people over the last two days, including the alleged lynchpins, Kanker-based PWD contractor Neeraj Chopra and his uncle Dharmendra Chopra. The latter man was arrested on Friday evening at Raipur airport, allegedly while trying to escape in the vehicle of a BJP Member of Parliament.
The police named two large mining companies in connection with the investigation, but said their specific involvement was still not clear. Both companies hold iron ore mining leases in Kanker, but are hardly able to extract any mineral because of the Maoist ban.
These mines are not yet functional. A PWD contractor called A D Rao brought two persons from Andhra Pradesh. Neeraj introduced them to Maoist leader Prabhakar in the forest for opening up the mines. The deal was yet to be completed, ADG (Intel) Mukesh Gupta told The Indian Express.
We do not yet know if the companies were directly involved in negotiations with Maoists, or some other contractors or middlemen held the talks. This is a matter of investigation, Gupta said.
According to the police, the Chopras and their associates also facilitated the stay of Maoists in urban Chhattisgarh, transported their arms, and acted as couriers for them.
Neeraj is very close to Prabhakar. He gave huge amounts to Maoists on various occasions, including Rs 15 lakh, Rs 25 lakh and Rs 20 lakh. At least eight cases have come to our notice in which they aided Maoists in committing crimes, the ADG said.
The arrests recall the Essar-Maoist payoffs case of September 2011, when the Dantewada police arrested