Fear has gripped Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) officials in Manipur, following a Rs 5 million (Rs 50 lakh) extortion demand from a tribal separatist group that led to tankers staying away and dipping fuel stocks in the northeastern state.
A Manipur government official said militants of the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) served the whopping demand to the Imphal-based Assam Oil Division of the state-owned IOC.
"According to reports, the NSCN-IM had set Aug 20 as the deadline for payment of the extortion money. The IOC, however, refused to pay," said the official, who wished not to be identified.
"The extortion demand and the subsequent threats by the NSCN-IM have forced many IOC officials in Imphal to move to safer areas fearing reprisal. Tanker drivers carrying petrol and diesel have also stopped coming to Manipur," he said. All essentials reach Manipur from Assam and other Indian states via Nagaland.
A senior IOC personnel added: "Tankers carrying oil from Assam have stopped going to Manipur for the past 10 days out of fear. Non-payment of the extortion money has fuelled fears that the NSCN-IM might attack the tankers while it crosses Nagaland on way to Manipur."
Fuel stocks in Manipur are fast drying up and according to officials it could last for another week. The Manipur government has urged New Delhi to sort out the extortion demand with the NSCN-IM.
There was no immediate reaction from the NSCN-IM. The NSCN-IM is currently involved in a ceasefire with federal forces and is engaged in peace talks with New Delhi.
Although the NSCN-IM is dominant in adjoining Nagaland, it also exercises influence in the bordering areas of Manipur.