Dantewada school teacher held in Delhi in connection with Essar case

The Communist Party of India (Maoist) has denied allegations of a financial agreement between the armed guerilla group and the Essar Group, a giant multinational with revenues of $20 billion, to allow the company to operate an iron-ore processing facility in rebel-affected territories in Chhattisgarh.

“Our party has opposed the Essar ever since it began operations in Bastar,” said spokesperson Gudsa Usendi in a recorded statement sent to this correspondent. “It is completely false to suggest that we have taken money from Essar.”

The Essar operates a underground pipeline to transport iron-ore slurry from their beneficiation plant in Kirandul, Chhattisgarh to a pelletisation plant in Vishakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh. The pipeline is occasionally targeted by the Maoists and subsequently allowed to function unhindered, prompting speculations of an agreement between the company and the Maoists.

“The Essar Group vehemently rejects all allegations made regarding payments to the Maoists. The Essar would like to state that such baseless allegations are being made to hurt the image and reputation of the group, which is a law abiding corporate,” said a spokesperson in an emailed statement.

WikiLeaks release

In August this year, the WikiLeaks website released a diplomatic cable sent by the U.S. consulate in Mumbai quoting an unnamed Essar representative who claimed that the company paid ‘significant amounts” of money to Maoist fighters to safeguard the Essar plants. The cable was the first in an increasingly complicated series of events involving the police, Maoists, local journalists, and mining companies.

In his statement, Maoist spokesperson, Mr. Usendi the leaked cable illustrated that “American imperialists” and the Indian State were working together to discredit and defeat his organisation.

In September, the State police arrested B.K. Lala, a private contractor, and Lingaram Kodopi, an Adivasi youth and freelance journalist, on charges of serving as couriers between the Essar and the Maoists. In the weeks that followed, the police also arrested Essar employee D.V.C.S. Verma, general manager of the company's plant in Dantewada on the basis of information purportedly provided by Mr. Lala in the course of his investigation. The police are still looking for Pawan Dubey, the proprietor of a local newspaper and NGO, who is accused of channeling money to the Maoists under the guise of implementing the Essar's corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes.

On Tuesday, the police arrested Soni Sori, Mr. Kodopi's aunt in Delhi and remanded in one day's judicial custody. “The court has recorded that Ms. Soni fears a threat to her life and false implication by the Chhattisgarh police,” said her lawyer, Vrinda Grover in a statement, “The Chhattisgarh police is expected to ask for her transit remand.”

A school teacher in Dantewada, Ms. Sori is accused of participating in a Maoist raid on Congressman Avdesh Singh Gautam house in Dantewada in 2010. The police also claim that Ms. Sori is involved in the Essar case. However, Ms. Sori said she was being targeted for knowing too much.

“The police's entire story about Linga and Lala's arrest is false,” she said in a conversation with this correspondent last week. Ms. Sori alleges that a policeman approached her days before Lala was arrested and forcibly used her cellular phone to call Mr. Lala. “He [the policeman] pretended to be a Maoist and told Mr. Lala to bring the money to a designated spot. Soon after, Mr. Lala was arrested and now the police is targeting me,” she said.