In the name of "donations to Maoists", hundreds of youths in Chhattisgarh who had no connection with the Maoist movement extorted up to Rs.220 million last year, police say.
Their targets ranged from businessmen to officials to even top policemen.
"Everybody knows in Chhattisgarh that Maoists annually extort millions of rupees as donations to the Maoist movement and major business players always donate generously to run their businesses. But now youths who are in no way linked to Maoists have also been earning big sums," a senior police officer in the Bastar region of the state told IANS on condition of anonymity.
"In 2006, police had received a few cases of extortions by fake Maoists but in 2007 it was a huge collection made by unemployed youths in the state's southern region of Bastar," the official said.
"I estimate the extortion in the name of Maoists was over Rs.22 crore (Rs.220 million) last year in the state with 90 percent of the extortions made in Kanker, Bijapur, Narayanpur, Bastar and Dantewada districts that jointly form about 40,000 sq km area of Bastar," he added.
"The Rs.22 crore is an estimated figure as cases of extortion sought by fake Maoists are hardly reported because the affected people or firms are not sure whether the extortionists were genuine Maoists or they were just exploiting the terror of Maoists," he pointed out.
"Once business people receive a letter written in red ink in Bastar, they ensure that the payment is made immediately and without informing anyone, even close family," said a police officer posted in the Maoist hotbed of Konta in Dantewada district.
"This has encouraged hundreds of unemployed youths in Bastar and Rajnandgaon district bordering Maharashtra to operate a big racket in the name of Maoists," he added.
Sources say a majority of the fake Maoists are outsiders who settled in Bastar in recent years, though a few tribal youths who had past association with Maoists but have now joined the mainstream also extort occasionally to get over sudden family problems and other crises.
"Several unemployed youths became richer in 2007 just by posing as Maoists and extorting a huge sum from local transport operators, government officials including low-ranked policemen, shop owners, small businessmen, tea vendors and staff and contractors of the National Mineral Development Corp (NMDC) and Essar Steel," the source said.
NMDC and Essar Steel mine iron ore in Bailadila hills in Dantewada district and transport the ore to Visakhapatnam port in Andhra Pradesh.
"Extortion is a safe game in Chhattisgarh, mainly in Bastar, because your identity will never be exposed," said a police officer posted in the Pakhanjur area of Kanker district.
"Those who extort will also not mind paying some amount to Maoists to have friendly relations to operate their business. But the businessmen never know whether they are paying the money to genuine or fake militants," he added.
"In several recent cases, local businessmen paid extortion amounts to fake Maoists as monthly donation and within a week again received extortion letters for the same month's donation sent by genuine Maoists. Finally, the Maoists took the fakes to task," he said.
"With the rise of Maoist militancy in Chhattisgarh and India's two private steel majors' decisions (Tata Steel and Essar Steel) to install plants in Bastar, the extortion racket by genuine and fake Maoists will touch new heights in the coming years," said a senior police official posted at the state's police headquarters here.