The Communist Party of India (Maoist) has declared a two-day bandh, starting July 7, followed by an additional five days of protests, demonstrations and public rallies in Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal.

“The bandh is in response to the brutal killing of Comrade Azad, and freelance journalist Hem Chand Pande in a fake encounter in Adilabad,” said Ravula Srinivas, alias Ramana, secretary of the South Bastar Regional Committee of the CPI(Maoist), in a telephonic interview with this correspondent. “We request the public, intellectuals and all democratic forces to support this bandh.”

While Ramana promised not to target medical stores and essential services, he said the party would specifically target goods trains in the Bastar region. “We demand that trains carrying iron from Kirandul [in Dantewada] to Vishakapatnam [in Andhra Pradesh] be stopped for this period,” Ramana said, “else we shall be forced to target them.”

While TheHindu was unable to reach officials at the National Mineral Development Corporation in Kirandul, the Maoist decision to target the ore-carrying trains will significantly affect the company's operations.

Earlier this year, CPI(Maoist) cadres destroyed a pipeline designed to carry iron ore from the NMDC mines in Kirandul to a processing plant owned by the Essar Company in Andhra Pradesh.

In an interview in May, senior officials at NMDC identified the transportation of ore as one of the biggest problems affecting their mines.

On July 2, the police killed two persons in an encounter in Adilabad. While one body was identified as CPI(Maoist) central party spokesperson Azad, the second was found to be that of Hem Chand Pande, a man identified as a freelance journalist born in Pithoragarh, Uttarakhand.

While the Bastar division of the CPI(Maoist) has claimed that Pande was simply a freelance journalist accompanying Azad on a story, a press release issued by the outfit's Northern Bureau has identified Pande as zonal committee member ‘Comrade Hem.'

Maoist leaders insist that Azad and Pande were not killed in an exchange of fire, as described the Andhra Pradesh police, but were picked up from Nagpur and executed in Andhra Pradesh. The police have consistently denied Maoist claims.

Centre sounds alert

Vinay Kumar reports from New Delhi:

The Centre has issued an alert in the Naxal-affected States ahead of the bandh called by Maoists. The Home Ministry has asked the States to be on maximum vigil and take steps to foil any attempt at violence, including hostage-like situations.

K. Balchand reports:

The Railways have issued a red alert directing zonal railways to ensure the safety of passengers and safe running of trains. With the zonal railways being given all powers to decide on running of trains, the East Central Railway, Hajipur, cancelled at least four pairs of trains, diverted 10 trains and regulated five others for three days with effect from Tuesday.

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