|Biren Mahato in Belpahari, West Midnapore, on Tuesday. Picture by Pronab Mondal
Belpahari, March 25: A Maoist leader who had surrendered a decade ago and opened a stone quarry with the Left government’s help after he got bail has alleged that he had to close down his mine for failing to meet the extortion demands of local Trinamul workers.
Biren Mahato, a former Maoist zonal committee member, had employed around 250 tribals in his quarry, all of whom have been rendered jobless since the closure of the mine in January. Half of those who worked there belonged to the Sabar tribe, which is said to be the poorest tribe in the area.
Trinamul has denied the allegation.
“I met the officer in charge of the local police station and the block development officer. But nothing happened,” said Mahato, who opened the quarry in Belpahari in 2008.
Mahato, who was the commander of the Maoist Communist Centre, which merged with the People’s War to form the CPI (Maoist) in 2004, surrendered in 2003. He got bail in all cases against him five years later.
“While working as an MCC member, I saw how tribals were deprived. I quit the outfit after I realised that bloodbath cannot be a part of a people’s movement. So I surrendered,” Mahato recounted.
At least 200 tribals who were employed in Mahato’s quarry today stood in knee-deep water in a pond through the day in protest.
Uday Sabar, who worked in the quarry, said: “We are protesting against the highhandedness of Trinamul workers here.”
Mahato said a group of local youths, who he claimed were local Trinamul workers, had in January started demanding money from him ranging between Rs 5,000 and Rs 10,000.
“I met their demands on three occasions. But they started asking for money every day. It was not possible for me to pay them anymore,” Mahato said. “One day, they blocked my two tractors loaded with stones and called police. I had to pay Rs 8,000 as bribe because the police said tractors are meant for tilling land, not for carrying goods or stones.”
Mahato decided to close down his quarry in January end.
The inspector in charge of Belpahari police station, Nirmal Majhi, said: “We had received a complaint from Mahato and conducted an inquiry. But we did not get adequate evidence to start a case.”
Asked about the demand for money, Kanta Soren, a Trinamul leader and an elected member of the Trinamul-run Bhelaidiha gram panchayat, said: “I don’t know about any such demand for money made by local Trinamul supporters.”