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Hospitality, Ulfa style

Extortion money goes to funding of profitable business ventures in Bangladesh, propaganda and purchase of weaponry systems

, ET Bureau|
Apr 20, 2009, 04.55 PM IST
0Comments
THIS is one business quizz you won���t be able to answer. Who is Subal Baura or Satish Sharma or Ashish Deka ? Which "international" hotels do these "NRIs" manage ? Give up, because you can���t figure this out.
Cut to army intelligence and the Border Security Force in the North East. "They are all cadre members of the Ulfa and they are all in the hospitality business, managing the insurgency outfit���s hotels on Taj Mahal Road, Mirpur and Banani, all in Dhaka city. Subal Barua is known as Ahmed, Satish Sharma as Kamal and Ashish Deka as Hossain" top intelligence officials told ET.
Apparently, Ulfa has a sprawling business empire in Bangladesh and the outfit owns seven "international class hotels" in Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet. The two hotels in Sylhet are managed by Dulal Roy, alias Saidu and Anil Dey, alias Sohal. The Chittagong hotels are looked after by Subhash Deka, alias Humayun and Kanailal Barman, alias Rubel.
Get any idea of what the scale of operations is like ? Terrorism, extremism, insurgency, militancy -- call it by whatever name you will, but it is big business of a kind that most cannot even dream of. Indian intelligence sources claim that Ulfa also operates three bank accounts in Bangladesh that have been traced to Arab Bangladesh Bank���s Farm Gate branch in Dhaka, Zinda Bazar branch in Sylhet and Al-Barakah Bank���s Pahartali branch in Chittagong.
"The intelligence wing of the BSF has gathered this information, although it is not possible to figure out the kind of money Ulfa has in these accounts or the precise size of its business operations in Bangladesh" sources said.
So where does all this money for investment come from ? Extortion ofcourse is a main stay of income. There are other avenues as well. Here is an example of the extortion mechanism. Truckers traveling to Nagaland and Manipur have got to pay a tax to Ulfa and other extremist groups. The going rate now for travelling into Nagaland and Manipur varies between Rs 5,000 to Rs 20,000 per truck. On an average, nearly 100 to 200 trucks move from Assam to Nagaland and Manipur every day.
Hundreds of commercial establishments, including chemist shops, located on both sides of Tiddim Road along National Highway 150, from Keishampat to Kwakeithel in the Imphal West District, had closed in the past to protest against extortion. Nothing works. Even contractors and government servants in some cases are asked for cut money.
Settler-farmers in the Kharoni area of Karbi Anglong have to pay ransom thrice a year to three different militant outfits. The place exports quality organic molasses. The size of the molasses trade from the area is about Rs 2 crore annually. Every January, the militants visit every home here for ransom, which depending on the person���s economic condition varies between Rs 5,000 and Rs 50,000. Official estimates are that there are over 80,000 Hindi speaking people from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh who have settled thus in this region and nearly 90% of them are engaged in sugarcane cultivation. Businessmen from the North Cachar hills in Assam are also harassed for money. The situation is so bad that several people in Manipur and Nagaland refuse to give away their mobile phone numbers for fear that these numbers can be traced for extortion demands.
Many of the militant outfits actually have parallel "governments-in-exile" running, with council of ministers and even specific portfolios assigned to all of them. To recruit cadre, advertisements are released in the media.
Intelligence cannot put a finger on the actual amount of extortion overall, but they say that the money, which run into crores, is re-invested in profitable businesses locally or in neighbouring countries. There are reports also of extortion money going into the cultivation of "ganja" in many areas. Militant outfits also tamper with the price of commodities and take a cut from there. Almost all business establishments in Nagaland and Manipur need to pay up to survive.
Army intelligence says that Ulfa, for example, has set up quite a number of business establishments in Dhaka, from media consultancies to atleast two motor driving schools in Dhaka, a number of tanneries, a departmental store chain, garment factories, travel agencies, fishing trawlers, transport companies and private investment companies as well.
The profits from all these go towards funding propaganda against the state and for purchase of the latest weaponry systems from abroad. Army intelligence says that Ulfa has started outsourcing the propaganda to front organisations, atleast one of which is based in the United Kingdom.
As terror thrives, state governments are driven crazy for want of funds. The upkeep of central paramilitary forces requires a huge spend. Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi for example has even sought a special package of Rs 25,000 crore over the next five years to fund anti-terror -- money that could have been far better spent on developmental work for example, if there was an option.
bikash.singh@timesgroup.com
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