The Dantewada police have arrested Essar group's General Manager for Kirandul, D.V.C.S. Verma, as part of an ongoing investigation into allegations of the company routinely paying the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) significant sums of money to operate in rebel-controlled territory. This is the first time that an individual, directly employed by Essar, has been arrested in this connection.

The group has denied allegations that it paid protection money to the Maoists.

On September 10, the Dantewada police arrested B.K. Lala, a private contractor, on suspicion that he served as a go-between for Essar and the Maoists. A resident of Palnar village, Lingaram Kodopi, was also arrested for allegedly accepting Rs. 15 lakh on behalf of the Maoists.

“Mr. Verma was arrested on the basis of information provided by Lala,” said Ankit Garg, Superintendent of Police, Dantewada, “He will be in police remand for two days.”

Mr. Garg declined to provide any specific ground for Mr. Verma's arrest as investigations were still on. He said the police had also sought to interrogate Pawan Dubey, an employee and part-owner of Jai Johar, a recently established NGO, which conducted a significant portion of Essar's corporate social responsibility programmes in Dantewada and Bastar. “At present Pawan Dubey is absconding. We have asked the court to issue an arrest warrant,” Mr. Garg said.

Relatives of Mr. Kodopi have questioned the police version of events. As reported in The Hindu on September 11, Mr. Kodopi's aunt, Sodi Soni has claimed that he was arrested from his home and subsequently framed by the police. The police have insisted that Ms. Soni is also a Maoist cadre and currently absconding as well.

While the Essar company has said that Mr. Lala was given contracts for work at the plant, a company spokesperson said he also worked for other companies in the area. “The Essar group vehemently rejects all allegations made regarding payments to Maoists. 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. Essar has been making meaningful contribution to the growth of the country for the last 40 years. It has always put the country's interest first…,” said a spokesperson.