Monday, April 27, 2009

Businesses in Jharkhand grapping with Naxal terror

27 Apr 2009, 1623 hrs IST, ET Bureau

JHARKHAND: Businesses in Jharkhand are desperate for a way out of the terror raj. Surendra Bengali is languishing in Hazaribagh Jail, but when he
"ruled" Ranchi along with Anil Sharma in the mid-90s, nothing moved after dark. Life came automatically to a total standstill, such was the reputation of these two crimelords. It was then that a fairly unassuming senior superintendent of police, a certain Amitabh Choudhary, moved into office and picked up the two dreaded gansters almost as if by magic and restored Ranchi’s peace.

At Ranchi today, ordinary people recall those days. "The present day Red-terror reminds me of those dreadful days of Anil Sharma and Surendra Bengali when there were no night shows and nobody would venture out after 7 pm. How can we do business in such an environment," asked Bikash Singh, a Ranchi-based industrialist and former president of Jharkhand Small Industries Association (JSIA).

Talking to ET, Singh said that though he voted on polling day, he was really pained that none of Jharkhand’s politicians ever raise the issue of how this terror raj is affecting small businesses. And not small businesses alone.
According to a Central Coalfield Limited (CCL) official, truck movement had come to a halt on as many as 88 days in the financial year. "Production went down as a result and our business could have been much better only if trucks had a free run," he said.

Indeed, movement on highways have got really hit due to the fear of Naxalite depredations. A survey made recently claims that while trucks run 350-450 kms on average a day in South India, in Jharkhand it is limited to just about 125-200 kms. According to Uday Shankar Ojha of the Jharkhand Truck Owners' Association : "Except for the Grand Trunk Road and the Patna-Ranchi-Jamshedpur National Highway 33, we cannot even think of moving on the road after sunset." While some 35-40,000 trucks ply within Jharkhand every day, about 10-15,000 also pass through to adjoining states. This gives an idea of how heavy the truck movement in the state actually is and most of these trucks actually ferry ore and coal to different industrial units.

"There are six points of exit from Ranchi, but except for NH 33, none are safe at night. So no trucker from Ranchi would move towards Gumla (connecting Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Gujarat), Daltonganj (connecting UP and MP), Khunti (connecting Chaibasa, Barbil and Orissa), Silli for West Bengal for Patratu for Barkakana after 6 pm. Same is the situation with buses," said Ojha.

There are also problems of no-entry in the state capital. So in a way, trucks run only 12 hours in Jharkhand and they remain stranded for the other 12 hours. Then you have the frequent bandhs that Maoists call and truckers have no option but to stay put. If a truck owner earns Rs 2000 a day, 25,000 truck owners in Jharkhand would lose about Rs 5 crore a day whenever there is a Maoist bandh", Ojha said.

With 18 out of 24 districts in their pocket and them running parallel governments in places like Chatra and Latehar, Maoists and Naxals really have a field day. With the administration crippled and politicians corrupt, businessmen are at the mercy of extremists. In the last four months alone, Maoists have called bandhs on 16 days and all of them were successful. Nothing moved.

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