In spite of driving away Maoists out of Andhra Pradesh, just how much influence they continue to hold in some areas became evident when Khammam police on Saturday seized Rs 50 lakh from officials of a road construction company. The amount was reportedly meant to be paid to the Maoists as protection money.
The Andhra borders are being used by the Maoists to regroup and negotiate deals involving crores of rupees as protection money. Majority of the targets, who are forced to pay protection money, are construction firms and those involved in development activities in the Left-wing extremism affected areas. Most of the border areas where the Maoists operate are inaccessible to security forces, and Chief Minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy has requested Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to release additional funds to lay border roads and purchase a chopper for air surveillance.
In January, a Pune-based construction firm, which bagged a contract to construct roads in Kanker district of Chhattisgarh, was reportedly asked by the Maoists based on the Andhra-Chhattisgarh border to pay Rs 1 crore as protection money. The company had opened an office at Bhadrachalam in Khammam district to oversee work in the neighbouring state, as it was not possible to set up offices in the volatile Kanker district after they were attacked by Maoist last month. A deal was struck through Bhadrachalam-based Maoists that the company would pay Rs 50 lakh as protection money.
The company officials were transporting the cash in a car when the police seized it and arrested them.
“The Andhra-Chhattisgarh and Andhra-Orissa borders are becoming volatile again. While their counterparts in Chhattisgarh and Orissa kidnap high profile people and negotiate release of their comrades held in jail, in the border areas, they are making huge settlements to procure money. The Maoists shot dead a police officer last week in Visakhapatnam. They are collecting huge sums of money to fund their movement by extorting money from construction firms, businessmen and people living in nearby areas,” an official said. Officials say there has been an increase in Maoist activity in Visakhapatnam and Vizianagaram districts and attribute this to Maoists’ recruitment drive. The same is the case in Khammam and Warangal, an official said.
The state government has sought additional funds, including money for developing a network of border roads along Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Orissa. At the conference of CMs on internal security held in Delhi last week, the CM sought funds to purchase a helicopter that could carry security personnel for quick deployment. Eight districts of AP, sharing borders with the three states, have been declared as LWE-affected.