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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Extortion in Assam

Extortionist Assam, Naga ultras target tea growers 
Sunday, 30 September 2012 19:30
Anup Sharma| Guwahati 

Militant outfits of Assam and Nagaland have once again revived their old modus operandi of demanding extortions. 

While small tea growers in Upper Assam in particular have been receiving extortion letters as well as calls frequently, the anti-talk factions of the Ulfa and NSCN(IM) are targeting politicians also. The September 23 bomb blast in tea and oil-rich Sivsagar district is being seen as an attempt to threaten the tea growers to fall in line.

The increase in number of extortion threats has led the All Assam Small Tea Growers’ Association (AASTGA) to demand the State Government for protection.

“On September 13 and 14, one of our members received an extortion demand in the name of anti-talk faction of the Ulfa,” said an office-bearer of the AASTGA on condition of anonymity.

“Another member of our organisation from Golaghat district received an extortion letter demanding Rs 10 lakh from a Nagaland-based militant outfit. The small tea growers of Golaghat have already been suffering due to inter-State boundary problems between Assam and Nagaland - Naga miscreants often enter into the tea gardens located close to border and destroy the tea plantation saying that the area belongs to them. The problem of extortion will dishearten the youth further who had taken up tea cultivation as their profession,” said the AASTGA member.

AASTGA has also said that even the tea estate owners in Tinsukia district often get extortion threats from the Nagaland-based NSCN(IM).

Indigenous planters have ushered in a new revolution by engaging in tea growing sector. Small tea growers in Assam are providing employment to over 15 lakh people. The State accounts for 13 per cent of the world’s total tea production and around 800 tea gardens in Assam produce 51 per cent of India’s annual tea production.

Last year, the State had produced 508.74 million kg of tea and approximately 30 per cent of that was from the 70,000 small tea growers (having only 10 to 12 hectares of land). The sector is very important for a State like Assam, where unemployment is a big problem.

Confirming the developments, Assam’s IGP (law and order) LR Bishnoi said, “We have received information by the small tea growers in some Upper Assam districts about extortion demands. Security has been provided to the particular growers depending on the requirement and our police force is working on how to stop these extortions by the outfits.”

The police have also succeeded in preventing extortion in some areas by arresting the culprits, he told The Pioneer.

But the tea growers are not alone in bearing the brunt. Even the ruling party’s legislators are being targeted. Recently, Debabrata Saikia, a Congress legislator and son of former Assam Chief Minister Hiteswar Saikia, was served with a demand note of Rs 30 lakh.

Although during the initial years, the Ulfa was relatively peaceful and maintained a Robinhood image - punishing drug peddlers and corrupt officials - the outfit stepped up its violence and extortion after the 1983 Assembly polls in Assam. In May 1985, it looted a bank in Guwahati, killing its manager. Similarly in 1986, the outfit looted another bank at Namrup in Dibrugarh district. The outfit also carried out its first political murder, gunning down lawyer Kalipada Sen, one of the founders of the United Minorities Front of Assam (UMFA) in 1986.

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