The ambush on an army convoy at Pengeree in Tinsukia district by suspected ULFA(I) and NSCN(K) militants clearly indicates that the Centre’s currency flushout move is hitting these outfits where it hurts most. Only a couple of days before Saturday’s attack, a cash van from Pengeree tea estate had come under militants’ fire in another forested stretch nearby. It had led to suspicions that militant groups are now desperate to get hold of the new cash to not only fince their operations, but even to meet their day-to-day needs. Of late, there have been reports of increased movement of ultras in some districts including Tinsukia, Dibrugarh and Sivasagar, primarily to raise money through compulsory dotions and extortion. But with Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes junked overnight, and the subsequent rationing of new currency, these outfits face the prospect of being smoked out overground if they seek to replenish their war chests. Now that two NE outfits have gone on the offensive within a fortnight of the demonetization move, the region is likely to see more encounters with security forces in the coming days. In his November 8 address to the tion, Prime Minister rendra Modi had mentioned the terror fince angle while explaining his currency shakedown move. BJP president Amit Shah believes the PM’s “bold” move has left terror outfits ‘penniless’. But it will only be a matter of time before these outfits figure out how to get hold of the new currency. The security forces thus have an initial window of 3-4 months to move hard against militant groups, by which time the country’s disrupted currency flow is expected to normalize.
The Northeast region is a major front through which militant outfits have been accessing government money meant for welfare of the poor, thanks to corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. After the tiol Investigation Agency (NIA) was set up in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai terror attack, one of the first cases it took up was the ‘Rs 1,000 crore’ NC Hills mega scam. What came to light was systematic diversion of development funds under various departmental schemes to the militants’ coffers, as well as an intricate network of fund transfer operators, money launderers and arms dealers. Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram may now scoff at the terror fince argument in the demonetization move as ‘exaggerated’, but he took this problem very seriously indeed when he was Union Home minister. Another threat to the country’s economy is fake currency, which PM Modi particularly alluded to in his address. “Have you ever thought about how these terrorists get their money? Enemies from across the border run their operations using fake currency notes. This has been going on for years,” he had said. But intelligence quarters have been pointing out that while fake notes are manufactured in Pakistan, these are sent to Bangladesh via air and sea routes through well-organized gangs — then pushed into India through its porous borders. So the NE region figures prominently in the militants’ fake currency racket as well, with estimated 90 percent of such currency passing through this land route.
According to a study by the Indian Statistical Institute of Kolkata last year on behalf of the NIA, around Rs 70 crore fake notes were being pumped into the economy every year, with the average worth of fake notes in circulation at any given point of time being Rs 400 crore. But terror fince overall is a much bigger issue, with evidence of terrorist outfits in some cases outsourcing fund-raising, hawala transfers and other activities to crimil syndicates. What is more, terrorist outfits are growing more sophisticated in setting up charities and NGOs as fronts, using regular banking channels to make innocuous-looking transactions, and in investing their dirty money in legitimate businesses and share market operations. So any concerted action against militant and terror groups will require far better coordition between Central and state governments, between counter-terror agencies, investigation agencies and the inter-departmental Fincial Action Task Force (FATF) — than the country has at present.