CPI-Maoist have formed several committees to oppose the project

Bhilai Steel Plant (BSP), one of the main steel-producing units of Steel Authority of India (SAIL), ‘will fund construction of barracks’ for paramilitary forces to ensure security for the coming mining project at Raoghat in Kanker, central Chhatisgarh. The construction has been initiated, both Union Home Ministry and SAIL sources confirmed.

The BSP needs iron ore from the Raoghat mines, about 175 km south of Bhilai, as its existing nearby mines are fast depleting. The banned CPI-Maoist, which has a strong presence in Raoghat, has opposed the mining project.

The BSP is accessing iron ore from various captive mines in and around Dalli-Rajhara, 85 km south of Bhilai, for a few decades. However, those mines are depleting, according to SAIL officials.

The BSP needs to access iron ore from Raoghat, a hilly forested patch another 95 km south of Dalli-Rajhara. The BSP and Dalli-Rajhara are connected by rail to transport iron ore, unlike Bhilai and Raoghat. SAIL is keen to have a rail road to Raoghat from Dalli-Rajhara. However, strong Maoist presence and land acquisition issues are postponing the project, resulting in cost escalation.

In the recent meetings between Home Ministry officials and SAIL, it has been decided that four battalions, with more than 4,000 personnel, of elite paramilitary forces will be deployed to guard the railway construction site between Dalli-Rajhara and Raoghat. The Border Security Force and the Central Reserve Police Force will provide two battalions each. The BSP will ‘fund barracks’ of the paramilitary forces along the 95-km track.

“Not less than 20 barracks and requisite fortification are required to house the forces,” the Home sources told The Hindu. Some of the BSF forces have started moving to Kanker, sources said.

The area adjacent to Raoghat is almost entirely controlled by the CPI-Maoist. The outfit has an area committee in Raoghat. It operates under the North Bastar/Madh division, according to Maoist communiqués. The North Bastar/Madh division, united in 2009, is one of the powerful divisions and reports to the North Regional Committee which, in turn, reports to the highest State committee of Chhattisgarh, the Dandkarnya Special Zonal Committee of the CPI-Maoist.

During a five-week stay with the North Zonal Committee in 2010, this correspondent observed strong mass movement in the area against any mining projects in Raoghat, steered by the CPI-Maoist. A good amount of literature was produced opposing the project, songs were written and speeches delivered highlighting how iron ore extraction from Raoghat will displace the locals and damage the environment.

To counter the Maoist campaign, the BSP has initiated its Corporate Social Responsibility schemes in Narainpur, adjacent to Raoghat, over the last few years. Part of this is to sponsor sporting and cultural events in the area, which involves local tribal boys and girls from the Maria and Gond communities.