A parallel administration is going on in Sonitpur and other parts of Assam. Dispur knows about it, for the matter has been raised in the Assembly with serious concern by members. But the Tarun Gogoi government hardly seems to care. The situation has reached such a pass that irate residents of Bogibeeli village in Sonitpur district recently laid siege at the Chariduar police station. What was their grouse? NDFB ultras have been levying ‘taxes’ upon them as protection money. The police station has been doing nothing to stop this brazen extortion. The villagers have long been demanding at least a police camp in the area. After all, Bogibeeli village falls plumb within a corridor regularly used by NDFB militants to move to and fro between Assam and Bhutan. But the villagers’ demand for police protection has fallen upon deaf ears. The State government has completely abdicated from its responsibility to protect the people here. And this is not an isolated case. Not just Bogibeeli, many other Sonitpur villages too are reportedly under the NDFB parallel administration. Each village family has to pay a flat ‘tax’ rate of Rs 160 every month. Of course, traders pay a higher rate and keep quiet, for they have much more to lose. This is happening despite an all-out campaign in North Bank by the Unified Command to finish off the NDFB(S) outfit once and for all. But if the State police administration does not pull its weight and follow up after army and para-military action, can there be any lasting benefit from anti-insurgency drives? It is here the State Home department, for 14 long years under Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi’s watch — has much to answer for.
The Chief Minister may proudly claim that insurgency in Assam is now on the wane. But official statistics reveal a disturbing trend. The number of extortion cases is rising over the years. From 992 extortion cases registered in 2011, the corresponding number last year was 1,357. Obviously this is merely the tip of the iceberg, because most people pay up and keep shut while only a fraction of such incidents are reported. It is a fact that surrendered ultras are joining up or organising themselves into crimil gangs. With full complicity of corrupt sections of the police, these gangs are extorting and holding common people to ransom. The extortion drives by both active and surrendered NDFB ultras in BTAD areas were not checked, with the result that ultras have now spilled over into Sonitpur and vast areas of the North Bank. Adivasi rebel groups like AANLA, Birsa Commando Force and Cobra Militant Force have also followed suit, fanning out into primarily tea garden areas. Small tea growers, traders, timber suppliers, professiols, teachers — are all receiving extortion notes and paying ‘taxes’ under the shadow of the gun. Concerned citizens have pointed out that along with poor road communication and electricity network, the dismal education and health infrastructure all lead to never-ending insurgency in these areas. The areas of the State bordering Aruchal Pradesh, Bhutan and Meghalaya are so woefully underdeveloped, that outfits like the ULFA(I), GNLA and NDFB(S) are having a free run, extorting people at will. Even poor farmers are being ‘taxed’ for cultivating crops, as well as for selling these in the market.
Many such extortion victims pay up silently, because they allege the police are hand-in-glove with the ultras. AGP legislator Padma Hazarika recently voiced their allegations in the Assembly, demanding a probe into it. If corrupt sections of the police administration are raking in their share of the continuing loot by militants, who is there for the common people to turn to in distress? The State government has talked about setting up anti-extortion cells in Assam Police, but has any victim benefited from their supposed existence? Assam is already paying a heavy price for the fatally flawed surrender policies pursued by the Hiteswar Saikia and Prafulla Mahanta governments in the past. Surrendered militants were given soft bank loans which they mostly did not repay, they were allowed to seize control of various illegal syndicates in the me of doing ‘business’, and drafted into shady activities to help parties hold on to political power. The official endorsement of this ‘Violence Pays’ principle has bred an industry of organised crime in the State. But the Tarun Gogoi government is allowing active militants to set up parallel administrations, with far more serious consequences. It is very well for Tarun Gogoi to talk about leading the Congress again in the Assembly elections next year. But the shameful legacy of his administration’s lack of vision, drift and sheer ad-hocism, widespread corruption and callous abdication from duty — has set this unfortute State back by decades.