Shocking revelations surrounding the nexus between business, politicians and Maoists have surfaced.
The interrogation of prominent traders, Dharmendra Chopra and Neeraj Chopra, has led to the allegation that they were acting as conduits between a top mining company and Maoists. The allegations include extortion of protection money, facilitating entry of supplies in Maoist areas and hospitality of Maoist leaders.
Jayasawal Neco Industries Limited, a mid–seize mining company had its executives in touch with Dharmendra Chopra to initiate Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in Kanker district and to open two mines in the area. The company executives told The Hindu that they were working with Dharmendra Chopra on basis of his ‘reputation.’
“He was appointed as our contractor in one of the mines called Laindongri in Kanker district. We are awaiting mining lease execution with the government of Chhattisgarh to start the mine, as all other clearance had been obtained. In the other mine, in Metabodli (Village Chargaon), Mr Chopra had approached for starting of the mine, as we could not open the mine after acquiring it in 2002, due to local resistance. When Dharmendra Chopra approached us we decided to appoint him as contractor based on his reputation as he claimed to have worked with other reputed companies,” said Susanta Kumar Moitra, President, Corporate Affairs of Jayaswal Neco in an e-mailed statement. The company tried to open the Metabodli mine using ‘various contractors’ over last 11 years, but failed.
Mr Moitra clarified that his organization has no knowledge about any other activities of Mr. Chopra, and the intention of the company was to operate the mine to supply the steel plant in Siltara, about15 kms north of Raipur. During the course of these meetings with Mr Chopra, the company sought to build a consensus amongst the villagers in favour of a mining operation.
“Our aim was to ensure that the promises and commitments that were made to the villagers on providing jobs, medical facilities, education etc. as a part of CSR programme could start, before we could initiate the projects. The ultimate objective of the company was starting of the mining operation. Since none of the committed task got executed by Dharmendra Chopra, the company could not execute the final contract neither it paid any money to him or any other concern,” Mr Moitra said.
“However, officials at Bhanupratpur had met many villagers on different occasions to ensure starting of the mining operation for supply of iron ore…we never knew the villagers we met and had no idea about their activities elsewhere,” said Mr Moitra.
Jayaswal Neco Industries Limited, which started its operations in Chhattisgarh in 1996, now runs a 1 MTPA plant at Siltara. The company currently procures iron ore externally. To reduce its exposure to market volatility, the company acquired Metabodli and Laindongri mine. “These mines now had the permission for 50000 MTPA (each) extraction vis-e-vis the requirement of around 1.6 MTPA of the plant, hence it is quite obvious that our involvement and interest in those areas as well with the people living in those areas to a very limited as none of the mining activities could start till now,” Mr Moitra said.
According to the police, the Chopras arranged meetings between company executives and Maoist front-man, Sukhnath Nureti (65), a resident of Village Purundi in Kanker District.
Mr Nureti, who was also arrested, has revealed that he used to work for the powerful rebel leader of North Bastar, Balmurli Narayan Rao alias Prabhakar. “…they [Chopras] asked for the mining contract [of Jayaswal Neco], which is in crores, and in return promised security for the mines…a clear quid pro quo,” said an officer. The Chopras allegedly extorted 1.5 crore from another mining contractor in return for protection from the Maoists, according to the police.
The mining companies are claiming that they have pushed their agenda through the Chopras to the Maoists due to their political clout. “They claimed to be close to the rebels in the villages and in the capital we could often see them in ministers bungalow,” said an executive of another mining company on condition of anonymity. Last Friday Dharmendra Chopra was arrested from Kanker MP, Sohan Potai’s car. Mr Potai did not deny that the traders of Kanker were close to him.
The issue has provided some ammunition to the seemingly directionless opposition who were defeated for the third time in a row only recently. The newly elected leader of the opposition in State Assembly, T S Singh Deo has demanded arrest of Mr Potai and the former forest minister Bikram Usendi for their established links with the Chopras.
Congress will raise the issue in the forthcoming budget session of the parliament, said Mr Singh Deo.