May 22: As many as 22 self-styled Maoist recruits who helped track down guerrilla leader Kishan had approached the CRPF to surrender but returned after spending two weeks in a West Midnapore security camp as the state government did not respond, sources said.
Government sources said the surrender offer in exchange for a rehabilitation package was not considered because the debt-stressed administration did not think the recruits were “big enough” to spend “lakhs of rupees on”.
Such a conclusion ensured that a verification process intended at establishing the eligibility of the applicants for surrender was not carried out.
The Maoist recruits, some of who face murder and sabotage cases, have been cautioned to look out for themselves in their villages as the rebels could have come to know about the presence of such a large group in the CRPF camp.
The state would have had to spend Rs 48.84 lakh on the 22, if the package offered by the Mamata Banerjee government for unarmed rebels was applied.
The Maoist recruits, whose inputs helped the police kill Kishan in the Burishole forest in November, had reached the CRPF’s camp in Jamboni on February 10. After the operation, a CRPF source said, officers had promised these youths that they would help them surrender and secure the rehabilitation package.
The youths were kept inside the barracks and they were provided cots and blankets. They were also served the same food cooked for the battalion.
Two letters — dated February 10 and 16 — were written by the CRPF commandant, Ravinder Bhagat, to the director-general of police, Naparajit Mukherjee, as well as the then DIG (Midnapore range), Vineet Goyal, conveying the wish of the Maoist recruits from Binpur, Jamboni and Jhargram.
Both the former and present DIGs of the Midnapore range said they had no knowledge of the CRPF letter.
Goyal said: “I have no idea about the letters. You please ask the present DIG.” L.N. Meena, Goyal’s successor, pointed out: “Only the officer who was in my post during that period can comment on this matter.”
But a CRPF officer said: “We played host to them for two weeks. But when there was no response from the government, we realised that the administration was not interested. We told to them to go back. We suggested that they find safe places to stay as there was a high probability of the Maoists leadership targeting them. The Maoists would have come to know that the 22 had wanted to surrender and spent two weeks in our camp.”
According to the West Midnapore police, the 22 youths were “not hardcore Maoists”, so the government had not shown any interest in them.
“None of them was carrying arms,” an officer said, adding: “They may have been Maoists but not armed guerrillas.”
A Writers’ Buildings official said the surrender package could not be given “indiscriminately”. The package includes a fixed deposit of Rs 1.5 lakh for three years in the name of every surrendered Maoist and a stipend of Rs 2,000 per month for three years. Those who surrender with arms are eligible for more incentives.
“Even though the Centre provides 40 per cent of the funds under the package, offering it to 22 people would still involve a lot of money for the cash-strapped government,” the official said.
He said the government would have to be “selective” in handing out the package. The threat perception posed by these 22 men was low.
But a senior police officer said: “Even though they were technically eligible for the package, the cash-strapped government did not consider them big enough to spend lakhs of rupees on.”
“All the 22 Maoist recruits had cases pending against them, including that of murder. So they were technically eligible for the package,” the officer explained.
A verification process determines if the applicants are eligible for the package or not. But the verification can start only after the government clears the proposal — which was not given in this case.
Other sources suggested on Tuesday that a surrender of nine persons was imminent. Three of the nine could be from among the 22 who had gone to the CRPF camp.