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Maoists had called Gadchiroli meeting to lift drooping morale

Maoists’ agenda was also to discuss raising the target for collection of protection money from tendu leaf (beedi) contractors.

india Updated: Apr 25, 2018 09:39 IST
Pradip Kumar Maitra
Pradip Kumar Maitra
Hindustan Times, Nagpur
Maoists,Gadchiroli encounter,Gadchiroli district
Rebels of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) have been active in Gadchiroli since 1980 and later spread to Chandrapur, Gondia, Bhandara and some areas of Yavatmal district, bordering Andhra Pradesh.(AFP File Photo)

The Maoists had called Sunday’s secret meeting in the Rela-Kasnasur jungle in Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra to discuss raising the target for collection of protection money from tendu leaf (beedi) contractors and lift the drooping morale of the cadre following the surrender and killing of several activists in recent months.

A special commando unit of Maharashtra police stormed the site of the meeting, sparking a gun battle in which 16 were killed; the bodies of 15 more Maoists have since been found, taking the death toll in the encounter to 31.

People familiar with the matter say the Maoists collect over Rs 30 crore from Gadchiroli, Gondia and Chandrapur districts of Maharashtra every year during the tendu leaf plucking season that begins in April and ends by the first week of June. They also collect a sizeable amount from forest and road contractors.

The Communist Party of India (Maoist) was expecting to collect around Rs 50 crore from tendu leaf contractors this year. Most of the amount is spent on buying arms and ammunition, including AK-47 assault rifles.

It is a difficult task for rebels to keep such a huge amount in cash and they usually store it in aluminium containers and burying these deep in the forests. There have been reports that several Maoist members had gone missing after stealing some of the money.

Rebels of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) have been active in Gadchiroli since 1980 and later spread to Chandrapur, Gondia, Bhandara and some areas of Yavatmal district, bordering Andhra Pradesh.

Gadchiroli district, particularly south Gadchiroli, bordering Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh, is now the main centre for the Maoists of Maharashtra because of its logistical importance. The district borders Chandrapur to the west, Gondia to the north, Bastar, in Chhattisgarh, to the east, and Adilabad district of Andhra Pradesh to the south and south-east. The forested tribal district is also among the most backward in Maharashtra.

The Maoists of the former Peoples’ War Group (PWG) cleverly exploited the backwardness of the area to strengthen the organisation, using the low wages paid to tendu leaf collectors (Rs 4 for 100 bundles of the leaf used to roll beedis). Contractors were compelled to hike it to Rs 200-Rs 250 per 100 bundles.

The Maoists often organise so-called people’s courts to hand out punishment to village money lenders, “corrupt” forest personnel, school teachers and employees of government-run hospitals on the complaints of locals, in the process, cultivating the image of do-gooders.

The CPI (Maoist) has divided Gadchiroli district into three operational divisions: North Gadchiroli-Gondia-Rajnanadgaon division, North Gadchiroli, and South Gadchiroli. Of them, North Gadchiroli and South Gadchiroli come under the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee while North Gadchiroli-Gondia-Rajnandgaon falls under the Maharashtra unit.