The deadly attack on a police party by Naxalites in Gadchiroli on Sunday was more than just a show of strength by the rebels.
It was a calculated attempt to hike the “protection money” extorted from tendu leaf contractors.
The tendu leaf is a forest produce that goes into the making of a beedi.
Those in the know said Naxalites collect more than Rs 15 crore from Gadchiroli, Gondia and Chandrapur districts alone during the plucking season that begins in April and ends by June.
Requesting anonymity for fear of elimination by the left-wing rebels, they said the Naxalites of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) also collect a sizeable amount of money from forest and road contractors.
They said the Naxalites charge paper mills, which collect bamboo from Bhamragarh and other remote areas of Gadchiroli, vast sums in protection money.
“The violence that killed 15 policemen has sent a signal to all those concerned that the protection money will go up,” an observer of the Naxalite movement said on Tuesday.
Others who had tracked the ways of the Naxalites agreed with the assessment.
They said Maoists are expected to collect about Rs 25 crore from tendu leaf contractors alone this year and buy arms with most of it.
The state government had scrapped the contract system of tendu leaf collection in the 1990’s and entrusted the task to the Forest Department to stop the flow of money to the Maoists.
But the Forest Department was not up to the job and state revenues fell, forcing the state government to restore the system of auctioning forest beats to contractors.