The story of absconding coal mafia kingpin Anup Majhi aka Lala, who is named in the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) FIR in an illegal coal smuggling case seems to be inspired from a Bollywood crime thriller where the role of Rs 20 note becomes instrumental in the safe passage of trucks laden with coal, officers related to probe said on Wednesday.
A senior police officer in Jharkhand’s Dhanbad district related to the investigation of the illegal coal smuggling case, told IANS on condition of anonymity, “It seems Majhi was inspired from several crime thrillers in Bollywood where the villains or criminals used Indian currency notes a signal as a receipt for the safe passage of their smuggled items.”
He said that the truck drivers associated with Majhi carried a Rs 20 note which used to be a signal for the others.
“The Rs 20 note recovered from the drivers was a kind of signal. One of the angles point it towards the safe passage of the coal from Dhanbad to West Bengal and another angle can be a message to other mafias that they should not operate in their areas,” he said.
He said that the Rs 20 note used by Majhi’s gang was from a specific note series, about which the other groups had little idea. If the trucks of other syndicate tried to enter that route then they could be easily identified as the notes handed over to them might be from another series, he pointed out.
The official said that the code in the form of value of Indian Currency used to change from time to time to keep the idea of receipts secret from other syndicates.
The CBI had registered a case against the alleged kingpin of the pilferage racket Majhi, Eastern Coalfield Ltd General Managers Amit Kumar Dhar and Jayesh Chandra Rai, ECL chief of security Tanmay Das, area security inspector Kunustoria Dhananjay Rai, and SSI and security in-charge Kajora area Debashish Mukherjee.
Following the FIR, the CBI also questioned West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee’s wife Rujira Banerjee and her sister Menka Gambhir in connection with the case earlier this week.
Meanwhile, Dhanbad Senior Superintendent of Police Anees Vikrant Minz told IANS, “We were able to track the smuggling racket in the month of November last year.”
He said, the police got a tipoff that coal smuggling will start from November 1 and the police made a plan to seize the vehicles engaged in the smuggling of coal.
“We also got success after some vehicles of the gang were seized,” the Dhanbad SSP added.
Explaining the modus operandi, he said that Majhi’s people used to come to Jharkhand from the West Bengal side. And they use to operate through receipts.
When further pressed, he said that nine vehicles of the gang were seized from Dhanbad between November 4 to 5. He said that seven trucks were seized in Nirsa area while two in Govindpura area of Dhanbad.
He also said that the Dhanbad Police also laid a trap on the Grand Trunk road that connects Delhi with Kolkata with a fake traffic jam to trap the vehicles of the syndicate without giving out any clue.
“Through the fake jam on the highway we were able to seize more trucks as it was said that few of the vehicles had skipped the police trap,” he added.
IANS tried to speak to several police officers in West Bengal’s Asansol, Purulia and Durgapur. However, they remained tightlipped about the details of Majhi’s modus operandi and citing the CBI investigation.
The CBI probe into the illegal coal smuggling case has brought the spotlight turned on the illegal coal mining empire in West Bengal’s infamous Raniganj-Asansol belt that remained a hotbed of illegitimate operations of coal for over four decades.
According to sources in the agency, the sleuths have allegedly found documents linking Majhi and his close associate and another alleged coal mafia kingpin Joydev Mondal to an illegal coal empire worth over Rs 15,000 crore.
According to agency sources, they virtually operate a parallel administration in the colliery belt in connivance with top politicians, local administration and the ECL authorities.
Sources in the agency said that Majhi allegedly owns 20 industrial units in and around Durgapur and Asansol. He also owns two holiday resorts and a number of properties in Kolkata and Delhi.
Majhi also teamed up with alleged cattle smuggler Enamul Haque, arrested by the CBI last year. He worked with Haque using his network in North Bengal to transport illegal coal to Murshidabad, Malda, Dinajpur and beyond to Bangladesh.
According to West Bengal police sources, the entire syndicate of illegal coal handling takes place in an organised manner. The three-layered mechanism of operating the illegal coal mining in the ECL leasehold area is divided into three different parts. First, illegal rat-hole mining that mostly takes place in abandoned ECL collieries, secondly, operating depots to stockpile the illegal coal and the third and final part is transportation of those illegally-mined minerals.
All big players are involved in the third part as the key profits lie there. Insiders say that at least 35,000 people are directly employed in about 3,500 illegal coal mines in the Asansol-Raniganj area, while another 40,000 get indirect employment. The workforce is mostly drawn from the neighbouring impoverished pockets of Jharkhand. Only 5 per cent of the total manpower associated with the organised illegal mining syndicate is local.
The ECL mining leasehold area is 753.75 Sq-km and surface right area is 237.18 sq-km in West Bengal and Jharkhand. The Raniganj Coalfield is spread over the Burdwan, Birbhum, Bankura and Purulia districts in West Bengal.
The network of illegal coal transportation has a close nexus with local police administration as they take care of its smooth operation in the entire corridor. Sources said that the coal extracted from these illegal mines sells for Rs 300-400 a tonne, which is way cheaper than the actual price, and they cater to all sponge iron, ferro alloy, glass factories and brick kilns across Bengal and other states.
The large stretch of the Raniganj-Asansol belt is under the coal mafia’s control. There have been incidents of miners getting trapped in these mines and being killed.
(Anand Singh can be contacted at [email protected])