Debating India


The Dynamics Of Extortion


Thursday 18 December 2003, by SASHINUNGLA

Article paru dans Outlook India, ?dition en ligne du 18 d?cembre 2003.

In spite of the peace talks with the NSCN-IM and an official ceasefire with the Khaplang faction, the government remains a mute spectator to large-scale ’tax collection’ drives in the state and around it.

On August 29, people of Mokokchung town resolved to stop paying any ’tax’ — an euphemism for extortion — to insurgent groups. Shortly afterwards, the National Socialist Council of Nagalim, Isak-Muivah faction (NSCN-IM), issued a ban on ’tax collection’ by any individual or organisation within ’Nagalim’ (the ’Greater Nagaland’ that the NSCN-IM demands), and warned of stern action against defying the diktat. In fact, in July 2002, right after an internal reshuffle, the new ’home minister’ of the outfit, A.K. Lungalong, had said: "We must give way to a more systematic method of administration and to ’streamline tax collection’ and initiate steps to check ’over-taxation’."

Extortion remains a fact of life in Nagaland. In spite of the peace talks between the NSCN-IM and the government of India, as well as the official ceasefire between the Khaplang faction (NSCN-K) and the government, large-scale ’tax collection’ continues all over the state and even in areas in other neighbouring states where these groups have considerable influence.

Official information data indicates that, out of 249 cases registered under various sections of law just during July and August 2003, 138 persons were arrested. Eighteen of them were insurgents and 29 extortionists linked to either of the insurgent groups. In the month of May 2002, police in Kohima arrested at least 7 NSCN-K cadres while they were extorting money from shopkeepers. Similarly, five arrests occurred in three cases of extortion in the month of July in Mokokchung alone. And for each reported case there are dozens of others that secure silent compliance.

Both NSCN factions have been extorting money from government employees as well as the trading community. While the IM faction has fixed 25 per cent of gross salary as the amount to be contributed to the coffers of the outfit annually, the Khaplang group collects 24 per cent as its share from each of the government employees in the state, as well as in all Naga inhabited areas of neighbouring states. The arrest of two NSCN-IM cadres from North Cachar hills district of Assam, in January 2002, led to the discovery of the outfit’s plan to levy a 25 per cent ’tax’ on the salaries of employees in the area.

The situation in Mokokchung also illustrates the modus operandi that is executed over all ten districts of Nagaland. Every household in most villages in Mokokchung district has been paying Rs 120-150 to both the groups (IM & K) annually under two separate categories: ’house tax’ and ’army collection’. Additionally, Rs 1 per head is collected annually as ’membership fee’ by each faction. The payments demands are met mechanically, as any opposition carries an inherent threat of death. On occasion, a separate collection called ’public collection’ is also done in the name of ’civilians’ (a sort of go-between between the armed cadres and the public).

Villagers are also obliged to provide the armed cadres food and lodging during their periodic ’area tours’. The costs are met by ’ajungben saru’ (emergency collection) from every household in the village. During a recent interview a village council Member in Mokokchung district said: "It is not just about the amount of money we pay, but also the negotiation, threats, process of collection, ’nature and place’ of payment and much more."

Another major source of such revenue consists of collections from the drivers of each truck passing through Kohima. A sum of Rs 500 is collected from each truck as ’protection money’. The stretch of NH-39, between Kohima and Dimapur provides a perfect setting for this sort of activity. Trucks carrying onions and potatoes from Assam into Nagaland also pay a ’patriotic tax’.

In August last year, a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) of the Manipur People’s Party (MPP), Okram Joy, in a letter to Deputy Prime Minister L. K. Advani pointed out that NSCN-IM militants had opened their office at Dimapur in Nagaland to collect illegal taxes from drivers of Manipur. The Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi had also drawn the attention of the Prime Minister to the fact that the NSCN-IM militants were collecting Rs 30 million per month from the Manipuri vehicles in Nagaland.

Last year, the Indo-Myanmar border trade in Chandel district was severely affected due to non-plying of vehicles after the NSCN-IM served notices to all owners of vehicles operating along the Imphal-Moreh National Highway No.39 to pay a ’tax’ ranging between Rs 900 and 1700 per trip.

As many as 200 such vehicles ply daily on the route. The NSCN-IM, according to a report of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in 2001, made over Rs. 1,500 million per annum through extortion and other means.

The militant outfits in the state have other illegal and ’political’ means of generating incomes. The NSCN-IM is reportedly involved in vehicle lifting activities. In May 2002, police recovered a 9mm Taiwan made pistol with 6 rounds, 29 counterfoils of demand notes/receipts of the ’Angami region of the government of People’s Republic of Nagaland’ (GPRN), as well as some fake number plates and vehicle documents used in stealing vehicles, from five arrested NSCN-IM members at Dimapur.

There are also allegations of flows of funds from and to politicians in the State. In August this year, Congress leaders in New Delhi accused the NSCN-IM of paying Rs 50 million to former Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Gegong Apang to topple the Congress government headed by Chief Minister Mukut Mithi.

The NSCN-IM claims a traditional right over ’tax collection’. "Collection of taxes could not be termed as an extortion or looting as the organization had been collecting ’legal taxes’" to run the organization, the NSCN-IM declared in a statement on August 1, 2003. To persons acquainted with the dynamics of the group’s operations, it is not difficult to understand the rationale behind such collections, even when peace parleys continue with the government.

As one commentator notes: As negotiations go on in Bangkok, Amsterdam and Delhi, the wood is sometimes missed for the trees. Solutions are to be reached. But there is this commerce to look into, armies to feed and run. The machinery, in spite of the ceasefire, has to be oiled, not to fight the Army but to maim and kill cadres of rival factions. In other words, both factions of the NSCN need funds for sustenance. Funds that come from unwilling donations from the people.

There have also been allegations over the NSCN-IM’s reported collection of huge sums of money from the business community for foreign trips. "When a battalion of NGOs’ representatives goes to Bangkok, it involves a huge expenditure. We have received complaints of such forcible collection of money at Dimapur. It is a terrible burden on the business community," former Nagaland Chief Minister S.C. Jamir had stated in May 2002.

There are also instances that a significant portion of the collected amount is channelled for private business enterprises of the insurgent outfits. In a startling revelation, a Home Ministry report on North-East militants in 2001 stated, "Muivah has bought 12,450 shares worth US$1,25,000 (equivalent to about INR 6 million) listed to an Irish multinational company, well known for the production of consumer goods". The report also noted that the NSCN-IM had prepared a ’balance sheet’ showing an expenditure of Rs 200 million, but that actually amounted to US $500 million, as its chief had invested in real estate, shares, hotels and the proprietorship of several companies.

The impact of such ’tax collection’ has been significant on the personal lives of civilians, as also on the economy of the state. "In every developmental project or any business transaction, after NSCN-IM cut off their lion’s share, other groups; NSCN-K and NNC, will also cut their share.

When so little amount is left for the people, development is difficult", rued a senior Naga Mothers’ Association (NMA) leader in Kohima on condition of anonymity. "Government employees in the state can hardly take home a fraction of their month’s salary; shops close down by mid-day and by 3 pm the streets wear a deserted look; demanding free meals from hotels and essential commodities from shops is part of the militants’ ’style’; vehicles are taken forcibly without paying money; list of medicines are demanded from pharmacy owners; free use is made of commercial printing presses; officers and public leaders are constantly subjected to threats and demands by way of calls, chits and messengers. As a result, many business establishments in the towns have closed down, and prices of all commodities are the highest in this state."

After the NSCN-IM served an extortion note of Rs 6 million on Oil India Limited (OIL), work at the Khumsai oil-well in the Changlang District of Arunachal Pradesh has been suspended, resulting in a loss of Rs 200-300 million annually. Recently, the Border Road Task Force (BRTF) in Nagaland decided to indefinitely suspend work in Wokha-Bokajan sector of the state following extortion and threats from ’armed miscreants’. Rs 43,900 and material were robbed at gunpoint in the night of September 7 from the BRTF, who are deployed in the state for construction and maintenance works on various roads.

There are also cases when civilians have been targeted by rival outfits. Just a few days before the ’National Day of Prayer’ organised by the NCF (Nagaland Christian Forum) and Naga Hoho for the settlement of the Naga political problem in August 2002, gun-toting members of the Naga National Council (NNC) abducted the village chairmen of three villages near the Nagaland-Manipur interstate border in Manipur and demanded a huge ransom.

The widespread extortion machinery has also given rise to fake cadres who collect money in the name of the established insurgent groups. In August this year, reports suggested the presence of a gang of unidentified extortionists who had been extracting money from small traders and businessman at gunpoint, and who had injured one person near the High School area at Kohima.

Even in the prevailing environment of enveloping fear and anxiety, where refusal to pay brings death, occasional voices of protest do emerge in the state. Thus, the people of Tuensang made a submission to the Nagaland Baptist Church Council (NBCC) Peace Committee, which toured the Shamator, Noklak and Tuensang towns between April 11 and 17, 2003, stating, "Independence cannot come by killing the innocent public by the Nagas. Illiterate villagers and village council members are treated as second-class citizens. Villagers dying because of their beating. Poor villagers cannot longer feed them."

Even though the NSCN-IM has proclaimed a public ban on ’taxation’ with effect from August 28, 2003, and no instances of extortion have been reported in the media since, such a situation is likely to be short-lived. There were already complaints about an NSCN-IM ’double extortion’ spree in neighbouring Manipur. Evidently, in a situation where hardly any militant group exists without some sort of ’taxation’ or extortion base, either within or outside their own state, effectively ending such coercive resource mobilization could undermine the very foundations of such organisations, leading to their marginalisation and possible collapse.

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