For over a week now, demonetisation has dominated the headlines. Crores of ordinary citizens are scrambling for cash. While some are criticising the government for not caring about the fallout of the decision, the hope that the move would curb black money is keeping others patient.
The Naxal belt of Jharkhand has not gone untouched. A day after the move was announced, Jharkhand Police arrested four men near Ranchi while allegedly trying to deposit Rs 25 lakh in a rural branch of the State Bank of India (SBI). The money reportedly belonged to Dinesh Gope, the self-styled supremo of the Maoist organisation People's Liberation Front of India (PLFI).
Ranchi SSP Kuldeep Dwivedi, who headed the entire operation, claims the accused have admitted that the money belonged to the PLFI. They were apparently going to deposit the cash on a trial basis. Had these men been successful, more money from the Maoist coffers would have flown into the banks.
According to Dwivedi, a special team has been formed to closely monitor the Naxal money. The team includes several CRPF officials.
"We are conducting a combing operation against the financial empire of the Naxals since 8 November. We are focusing on the Maoist-affected areas of Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal. We are getting positive results as the insurgents are finding it difficult to exchange money. We have so far seized cash worth over Rs 2 crore. Of this amount, Rs 1.10 crore has been recovered from Jharkhand, Rs 80 lakh was confiscated from Bihar and Rs 10 lakh from Chhattisgarh. The cash comprises the old notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000," says CRPF Director General Durga Prasad.
Resorting to other means
These claims notwithstanding, reports emanating from various parts of Jharkhand reveal the left-wing extremists are adopting various tactics to channelise their black money.
At the heart of such news is the Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC), an armed group purportedly formed with government backing. It allegedly serves a double objective: to take on the Maoists and oppose them in their bastion, and to also expand its extortion business.
TPC rules the roost in Chatra district's Piparwar-Tandwa region. The coal trade of this area is said to run at the mercy of this organisation. The information coming out of this area suggests the TPC is exchanging at least Rs 2 crore worth of currency notes every day through clandestine means.
The Union Government had brought together agencies like CBI, Enforcement Directorate (ED), CID etc to form a mulch-disciplinary group against Naxal financing. The group held an urgent meeting in Ranchi on 15 November, which also happened to be the foundation day of Jharkhand.
An official who attended the meeting claims the group discussed the use of tactics by the Maoists to turn their black money into white and an action plan was chalked out. Over 750 trucks, 650 dumpers and 100 other vehicles are involved in the transportation of coal from various mining projects in the Piparwar-Tandwa region.
The sources claim the TPC dominates this transportation trade and is paying the labourers to save its black money. Around Rs 2 crore is being paid every day in this area as wages. The way the currency notes being deposited by the owner of the transportation companies in banks are bound together is also raising suspicion that it is this money is part of TPC's stash built over years.
Similar reports coming out of the Maoist zone of Saranda and Palamu are ringing the alarm bells in Ranchi.
Well-informed sources in Saranda's Kiriburu and Palamu's Latehar claim the insurgents are using the villagers to exchange exorbitant amount of money extorted as a levy. Several arrested insurgents have confirmed the fact that the Naxals have amassed enormous wealth in these areas.
The Naxals have reportedly been distributing money among the locals asking them to deposit it in their account on a commission basis.
Death in the time of demonetisation
Those failing to follow the Maoist diktat are facing dire consequences. On 15 November, Maoists, in the border district of Kharsawan, allegedly gunned down a trader named Yogesh Mishra. Mishra, who owned a nursing home in the area, had gone to a nearby village to buy chicken when he was intercepted. He was reportedly taken to the jungle and then hacked to death. The assailants then torched his vehicle.
Mishra's wife Madhumita alleges he was under pressure from the Maoists to exchange old currency notes. However, Mishra had expressed his inability to fulfill this demand. Madhumita says Mishra had told her that he was under immense pressure and the Maoists were constantly threatening him.
Even so, the real cause of Yogesh's killing is not yet clear. The pamphlet left near his body claims he was working as a police informer.
Saraikela-Kharsawan SP Indrajeet Mahatha says the police is investigating the murder from all angles. The cops are trying to find out whether Yogesh was in constant touch with the insurgents and why he had gone to the jungles on that fateful day.
While such news is finding a place in the local media on a daily basis after demonetisation, there is hardly any discussion in Ranchi's corridors of power on this issue. The police, on its part, has warned that anybody found helping the Maoists exchange black money will be charged with sedition.
Edited by Aleesha Matharu