June 26: Maoist rebels brought movement of minerals to a virtual standstill today in large parts of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.
They also forced the railways to suspend the movement of passenger and goods trains in Dhanbad, defying the deployment of security forces to foil the two-day economic blockade enforced by the rebels to protest economic policies of the central and state governments.
Dispatch of coal and iron ore was severely affected in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand and about 2,000 trucks were said to be stranded in West Singhbhum alone with truckers refusing to take chances.
The railways cancelled a dozen passenger trains in Jharkhand and withdrew goods trains in the Coal India Section after Maoists blew up an engine and derailed wagons of an empty goods train last night.
Dispatch of iron ore from Dantewada (Chhattisgarh) to Visakhapatnam port came to a grinding halt and normalcy is unlikely to be restored before June 30, said railway officials.
The highways in both Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand reported sparse traffic as long-distance buses went off the roads. Barring in pockets, Bihar and Orissa remained largely unaffected, though Jehanabad, a Maoist stronghold, shut down normal life.
Train movement on the Dhanbad-Gaya section and in the Chakradharpur division, however, remained normal, according to railway officials.
Dhanbad divisional railway manager Ajay Kumar Shukla claimed that railways are seriously thinking of calling off train services in the CIC section, There is a strong demand from the employees, he indicated, to suspend movement of both passenger and goods trains , in this section, at night. The section is vulnerable to Maoist strikes and has borne the brunt of Naxalite violence, he added.
Last night, the armed rebels forced the driver, guards among others off a goods train between Richuguta and Chetar before blowing up the engine and derailing the wagons.
Stressing that the goods train was, in fact, empty at the time, Shukla claimed that this was the first instance of Maoist violence “before the deadline”. The economic blockade, he said, was to start at midnight and a decision had already been taken to suspend movement of trains from midnight. But the rebels chose to strike at 11 pm, an hour before midnight. 22 wagons were derailed, overhead equipment damaged and the driver and guard held captive by the Maoists. Damage to the railways is estimated at Rs 2 crore for the engine and revenue loss is likely to amount to Rs 10 crore on the CIC section alone, Shukla added.
Near Parasnath station, Maoists deflated the tyres of a truck after placing it on the railway tracks. At other places they tried to dump coal from trucks on the tracks in a bid to stop trains. The Howrah-bound Jodhpur Express was in fact stopped and passengers panicked. But better sense prevailed and the train was allowed to resume its journey.
Around 3am, the rebels engineered an explosion to uproot railway tracks between Barwadih and Mongra stations.
At Pakur, rebels set fire to five dumpers of a private coal company. Ranchi and Chakradharpur railway divisions, however, remained incident-free and authorities were emboldened to flag off the Rajdhani Express to Delhi, which had been cancelled earlier.
Mining industry sources in West Singhbhum conceded that not a single truck had moved out with iron-ore since midnight on Monday. “This entire belt is a stronghold of the rebels and nobody dare to move a step against their wishes. All mining activity and transportation, therefore, will remain suspended till midnight on Wednesday,” an official of the department said.
A police officer endorsed the view. “Even if we post a constable at every yard, not a single truck will ply on the roads, fearing retaliation.”