State police are investigating a sudden spurt in deposits into bank accounts held by tribal people in the Maoist-hit Gadchiroli, Gondia and Chandrapur districts, following the Centre’s demonetisation directive announced on November 8.
Top officials told mid-day they will first scrutinise two banks in Gadchiroli, which got deposits of `35 lakh and `40 lakh in the days following the prime minister’s announcement withdrawing high-value `500 and `1,000 notes.
There are 119 public, private and cooperative banks and 72 ATMs in Gadchiroli district. The police suspect Maoists may have coerced locals to use their bank accounts to convert their old notes to new.
Simultaneously, the police have also made a list of contractors in the region, who are suspected to be paying protection money to the Maoists, under surveillance.
Rural bank accounts in other Maoist-hit states like Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand too have witnessed similar deposits. “In the last few days, we have seen a sudden spurt in deposits of old currency in two different banks in Gadchiroli district,” said a senior officer from the state police who monitors anti-Maoist operations.
“In one bank the collective deposits in different accounts went up to `35 lakh. In another, it totals to `40 lakh. This is a matter of concern, as most of the tribal people maintained a zero balance.”
Bipin Bihari, Additional Director General (Special Operations), Maharashtra told mid-day that the police are sifting through the records to separate the genuine deposits from the dubious.
“Bamboo and bidi leaf contractors had a profitable season this year and have earned good returns,” he said.
“Under the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Area) Act, besides a daily wage of Rs 300, villagers earned good amounts this year, which must also have been deposited in savings accounts. Our team is working closely with bank managers and will go through all the deposits made in last few days.”
Crucially, any deposit of over Rs 40,000 at one time can lead to the cancellation of the Below Poverty Line (BPL) ration card of a citizen, which means villagers won’t be entitled for the food grain subsidy.
“We also have inputs that traders, bamboo/bidi /PWD contractors, businessmen are likely to be contacted by the Maoists and we have a watch on such likely targets,” said Bipin Bihari. “Soon after the demonetisation directive, all units in Maoist areas were instructed to have meetings with bank managers. We have asked them to strictly check Aadhar cards and source of income for deposits.”
Intelligence agencies allege that around 200 Maoists operating from the dense forests of Bhamragad, Aheri and Ettapalli receive around Rs 10 crore a year from the central kitty.
Interestingly, a couple of months ago, Maoist literature seized from the region had instructed villagers to refrain from getting Aadhar cards and from opening a bank account. But, the police claimed, awareness programmes carried out by the local administration ensured that the villagers defied the Maoists.
“This will be to our advantage, as we can check the source of income of the sudden deposits,” said Bipin Bihari.
“With demonetisation, Maoists have very limited options before them.”
A senior intelligence officer mid-day spoke to, however, said the effects of demonetisation on terror groups is likely to be temporary.
Rs 10 cr
The money Maoists in Gadchiroli, Maharashtra, receive from the rebel group’s national fund
Number of banks public, private and cooperative in Gadchiroli district
Rs 72 lakh
Deposits in two banks since last week
Rs 15 cr
Funds that reach the naxals through hawala channels
Number of naxals active in the thick forest areas of Bhamragad, Aheri and Ettapalli
Daily wage of labourers in the region