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Essar official in Maoist fund net
- Arrest raises queries on protection pay
On guard

Nagpur, Sept. 27: Dantewada police today arrested a senior Essar Steel official on the charge of funding the CPI (Maoist) after his name figured during interrogation of a contractor “caught red-handed” while paying Rs 15 lakh to a suspected rebel supporter.

The arrest of D.V.C.S. Verma, general manager of the company’s operations in Kirandul, Chhattisgarh, came over a fortnight after a couple of arrests in the case, which has raised questions about alleged protection money business houses pay the rebels.

A court later sent Verma, the first head of the company’s location operations to be arrested in the case, to police custody for two days.

Verma’s name had figured during interrogation of B.K. Lala, the Essar contractor who was arrested by Dantewada police on September 10 after being allegedly caught giving the Rs 15 lakh to Lingaram Kodopi, a suspected Maoist supporter.

Lala had allegedly disclosed that he transferred the money from his account to the Maoists at the behest of Essar officials to keep the Ruias-led company’s mining interests safe in Chhattisgarh, a charge the company has denied.

“We had served legal notices on senior officials of the company and we have now asked for documents and more information in connection with our investigations into this case,” Dantewada SP Ankit Garg told The Telegraph.

Garg said they arrested Verma when “his role was established” in the payout.

The September 10 arrests came close on the heels of a WikiLeaks cable that quoted an Essar official as saying the company paid the banned group protection money.

“A senior representative from Essar, a major industrial company with large mining and steel-related facilities in Chhattisgarh, told Congenoff (Consul General Office) that the company pays the Maoists ‘a significant amount’ not to harm or interfere with their operations,” a cable dated January 11, 2010, originating from the US consulate in Mumbai and released by the online whistle-blower, said.

The police have charged Verma under tough laws like the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2005. If convicted, he can be jailed for life.

After the arrest of Lala and Kodopi, Dantewada police had seized some documents from the Essar premises. The police had also summoned Jairam, the sarpanch of Baribadar village in Chitrakonda block, Orissa, for interrogation.

The police suspect the Essar officials paid “protection money” to the rebels at this village last December after they damaged a pipeline that takes iron ore slurry from Dantewada to Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh through the Maoist-infested forests of Chhattisgarh and Orissa. The pipeline, police sources said, passes through Baribadar.

Essar has a beneficiation plant at Kirandul, where some of the world’s richest and finest ore is available. In mining, beneficiation involves a variety of processes whereby extracted ore is separated into mineral and gangue, the commercially worthless material in a deposit.

The company pumps the iron ore slurry from the beneficiation plant through a 267km pipeline to a pellet plant in Visakhapatnam.

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