The local edition of a national Hindi newspaper has claimed that officials from the Bhilai Steel Plant (BSP) have offered to pay the Chhattisgarh police to raise and train a dedicated battalion of troopers to protect the plant’s captive iron ore mines from Maoist attacks.
BSP officials contacted by this correspondent have refuted these claims, but police officials have indicated that the security establishment is considering all options in securing mineral assets in Chhattisgarh.
The BSP is a unit of the Steel Authority of India Ltd. (SAIL), a public sector enterprise. The plant sources its ore from mines in Dalli Rajhara in Chhattisgarh’s Durg district, but BSP officials predict the Dalli mines shall remain profitable for another four years at most.
BSP also has mine blocks at Rowghat in south Chhattisgarh in a territory claimed by the Communist Party of India (Maoist).
In an interview this May, Maoist spokesperson Gudsa Usendi said the guerrillas were categorically opposed to mining operations in Rowghat. He said that the Indian Army had also been allotted a large expanse of forest land to establish a training facility in the same forest belt.
“They [the establishment] are trying to squeeze us. The Rowghat mountains are very important to the ecology of the area and the Maria tribes who live there,” said Mr. Usendi, “The adivasis did not benefit from the mines in Dalli and they will not benefit from mines in Rowghat.”
On Saturday, the Raipur and Bilaspur editions of the Dainik Bhaskar reported that BSP had offered to pay for the cost of raising, training and deploying an armed battalion (800 to 1000 men) of policemen to secure the Rowghat mines. The proposal was supposedly floated on Friday June 17 during a meeting with the Minister for Forests, Vikram Usendi. The newspaper claimed that the battalion comprising local youth would be deployed for a period of five to ten years and would subsequently return to the Chhattisgarh police.
While company officials refuted the newspaper report, police officials told this correspondent that such a proposal has been making the rounds.
“We have made no such offer,” said Mr. P.K.Sinha, General Manager of BSP’s Rowgath project, “Our job is mine for ore and make steel, not to raise battalions.”
“We approached the Forests Minister as the mining area has to be deforested for work to begin, and only the forest department is allowed to cut trees,” Mr. Sinha said, adding that police protection, if any, would be meant for the forest department. “All our mines and premises are currently protected by the CISF [Central Industrial Security Force] and this shall continue,” he added.
“We asked the BSP to approach the Central government for security as all my men are currently involved in anti-Maoist operations,” said Chhattisgarh’s Director General of Police Vishwa Ranjan. Mr. Ranjan declined to comment on the specifics of BSP’s proposal. “We will consider all options if Central forces are unavailable,” he said.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior police officer said that the BSP “informally” asked if the police could raise a special battalion if the company bore the costs of raising and training the force. Such a force, the source believed, would be administered by the State police. The source estimated that it would cost about Rs. 50 crores to raise such a battalion. “But we will retain the right to withdraw such a force and redeploy elsewhere if required,” he said.
The source said that a private company with mining interests in Chhattisgarh had made a similar proposal but the top brass of the police had not shown interest.
In a telephone interview, Union Home Secretary G.K. Pillai said he was unaware of any plans to raise a State battalion to guard Rowghat, and that his office was yet to receive a formal request for Central forces.
“We have encouraged states to set up State Industrial Security Forces based on the CISF model,” he said, adding, that industrial security was based on a ‘user pays’ model and it was not unusual for private companies to bear the cost of Central security for industrial complexes.
Describing the CISF’s role in protecting private property, Mr. Pillai said that the CISF did not have a standing force waiting to be deployed. Once protection was sanctioned, the required force was recruited. The user pays for the recurring costs of deployment as well as a part of the initial costs, he said.