Maoist rebels extort up to Rs 300 crore every year in Chhattisgarh from traders of forest products, transporters and iron ore mining firms, says Chief Minister Raman Singh.
"Maoists extort at least Rs 250-300 crore (Rs 2.5-3 billion) annually and their extortion business runs from the state's southern tip of Bastar to the northern Surguja district," Singh told IANS.
"They mainly extort money from traders of 'tendu' leaves, iron ore mining firms, small and big contractors and transporters," added the 57-year-old politician.
Tendu leaves, which are used to make bidis (leaf-rolled cigarettes), are one of the most important forest products of the Bastar region that has been considered the nervecentre of Maoist terrorism in India since the late 1980s.
The restive region spread across 40,000 sq km has deposits of about 20 per cent of the country's total iron ore stocks and owners of the mines regularly face extortion demands from Maoists.
"The traders, businessmen, contractors and others who pay extortion money hardly have the courage to report it to the police because of the fear of Maoists and their own business interests in the region," said Singh.
Of the 1,500 casualties in Maoist violence since the state came into existence in November 2000 after splitting from Madhya Pradesh, 90 per cent have been from Bastar. "The Maoists also force people in the Surguja region to cough up money," added the chief minister.
The Surguja region is one of the most coal-rich areas of the country. It is home to several mines of the public sector Coal India Limited's (CIL) highest profit-making subsidiary, South Eastern Coalfields Limited (SECL).
Singh, who is serving a second consecutive term as chief minister, reiterated that Maoist militancy was not confined to Chhattisgarh and suggested that better coordination among states hit by the menace along with support from the centre might be effective in dismantling the rebels' terror infrastructure.
He praised the central government for having taking the "bold decision" June 22 to brand the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) a terrorist outfit.
"On the issue of taking on Maoists, there is no disagreement between the Chhattisgarh government and the centre. We both want to deal with it firmly and decisively," said the chief minister.
"The Chhattisgarh government is working on raising the strength of forces trained in jungle warfare besides modernising the police force to wipe out the Maoists," he added.