COVID impact: NE insurgent groups face severe financial crunch, extortion on the rise

Extortions and “tax” collections by the insurgent groups in the Northeast region have been dramatically increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, officials said on July 23.

Security forces have issued alerts following the illegal activities and have launched operations against the insurgents in various places in Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland along Indo-Myanmar border recently.

According to reports, a few factions of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) including NSCN-IM, NSCN-K, NSCN-KYA, NSCN-R have been speeding up “tax” collections from various sources and levied extortion demands in many villages of Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland along the Indo-Myanmar border.

Security sources said that extortion, “tax” collection activities of the insurgent groups have risen as they are facing severe financial crunch during COVID-19 pandemic since last year.

A top official of Indian army, based in Nagaland’s Dimapur, said that Arunachal Pradesh’s Tirap, Changlang, and Longding districts are main “milking grounds for the insurgent groups” due to the presence of coal and timber. The contractors who are engaged in trans-Arunachal Highway projects are also another major source of extortion for the insurgent groups.

“There is also a shortage of rations at their camps in Myanmar and they are now demanding rations as well from the villagers. This year, the insurgent groups are charging Rs 500-1000 from every shopkeeper as tax. They also charge 2-10 per cent of the sanctioned amount against contractors, Rs 3000-5000 per vehicle per year and Rs 300-500 per household per year. If the extortion amount is not paid, the victims are threatened with abduction,” the top official of Indian army said.

The NSCN-KYA group in June this year had sent a letter to the villagers of a few villages in Changlang district of Arunachal Pradesh and asked them to pay Rs 500 per household for the year 2020-21.

On May 16 this year, refusing to pay extortion money, villagers of Longkhaw village in Tirap district had allegedly thrashed NSCN-KYA cadres.

Following the incident, NSCN-KYA had sent a warning letter to the villagers of Longkhaw village on June 18 and threatened “capital punishment” if same is repeated in future.

In another letter on February 19 this year, signed by Brig. Shomchai, Second-in-Command, the Naga insurgent group asked the villagers to give annual contribution of indent-ration for the year 2019, 2020 and 2021 towards the Naga army and asked all households to submit to the respective village head or Gaon Bura.

According to the security agencies, on June 19 this year NSCN-IM had placed a demand of Rs 30,000-50,000 to tea garden owners of Machum village in Nampong circle in Changlong district of Arunachal Pradesh. On June 29, a NSCN-KYA group led by self-styled captain Rocky Thapa demanded Rs 1000 per house as ‘House & Indent Tax’ from the villagers of Natun Kheti and Lamlo village in Tirap district.

On July 5 this year, self-styled Lt. Col Apem Tangkhul of NSCN-IM had placed an extortion demand of Rs 50,000 to each wine shop owner and Rs 10,000 to each restaurant located in Changlang township area as annual tax for the year 2021.

On July 6, a group of cadres led by self-styled captain Rocky Thapa of NSCN-KYA in Dadam area of Soha circle in Tirap district threatened to burn down the machineries operating at the road construction site in Natun Kheti area in Tirap district, if the road construction company failed to fulfil their extortion demand.

About Hemanta Kr Nath

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Hemanta Kumar Nath is a Guwahati-based journalist. He had worked with India Blooms News Service (IBNS), Meghalaya Times, Global News Network among others.

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