Banaso (Hazaribagh), Oct. 7: Maoist Communist Centre extremists today looted Rs 3.5 lakh from a State Bank of India branch and abducted the manager and three other employees.
The extremists struck around 11.30 am at the Banaso branch that falls under Vishnugarh police station, 55 km from the district headquarters. It marks the first MCC-led bank robbery in Jharkhand.
The rebels, who later released the cashier, said the robbery was their response to the “stealing” of Rs 14 lakh from them at Jhumra Hills last July by Bokaro superintendent of police Anil Palta.
Palta had seized Rs 14 lakh during a raid on the MCC stronghold of Jhumra Pahad, but the Naxalite outfit branded him a “thief” and vowed to punish him suitably.
In July, the MCC abducted 24 Hindustan Construction Company employees from Barkatha, nearly 70 km from Hazaribagh, but released all of them.
B.B. Pradhan, deputy inspector-general, North Chhotanagpur, said a raid was on, led by Hazaribagh superintendent Anurag Gupta and his Bokaro counterpart, Palta.
The assistant general manager of SBI has reached the scene of the crime.
Witnesses said about 20-25 men wearing police uniforms arrived outside the bank in a mini bus. Armed with guns, they encircled the building. Ten of them entered the bank, where the guard, Dhuran Prasad Sahu, surrendered meekly, handing over his rifle.
The rebels asked those present to remain where they were as they proceeded to snatch Rs 2 lakh from the cash counter and tried unsuccessfully to break open the safe. They snatched Rs 95,000 from a customer, Mahamaya Prasad, owner of Mahamaya Automobiles, and Rs 56,300 from Mohan Singh, who works at the irrigation department.
As they went about the robbery, they shouted “police murdabad”, “MCC zindabad”, and “14 lakh ka 28 lakh lekar rahenge”, in a reference to the sum seized by Palta.
The MCC extremists damaged furniture and destroyed bank documents. As they left, they forced branch manager Rajkumar Maheshwari, probationary officer Rajesh Kumar Sinha, cashier Tulsi Das Karmali and another employee, Durga Hembrom, to accompany them. They commandeered a vehicle and after proceeding some distance towards Bokaro, released Karmali.
Local residents and customers said it took them a while to figure out that the MCC men was looting the bank as they were in police uniform. Police were informed only after a while, resulting in Jai Narayan Prasad, officer-in-charge of Vishnugarh station, reaching the bank an hour late. The bank has no telephone connection and all telephones in the area have been out of order for the past month due to a technical snag.
Pradhan said Palta was immediately asked to conduct a joint raid to arrest the extremists. He said Karmali had helped put them on the rebels’ trail, adding that the owner of the minibus in which the Naxalites arrived had been traced. He has been identified as Parmeshwar Sahu of Tati Jharia.
Two CRPF companies, one from Bokaro and another from Hazaribagh, have been called to help with the raids.