The business of coal using the corridor of Barak Valley in a clandestine and illegal manner is like a jigsaw puzzle in which syndicate with long arms and political backing from all hues is involved. The business starts from the coal mines of Meghalaya and extends up to the border of Bangladesh and even beyond. In fact, the spot study along the National Highway 6, reveals how the money churning trade flourishes in collusion with police on both sides. The way it goes on unhindered, raises many an intriguing question, who are involved, can anyone guess.
From all reckoning, Barak Valley corridor has emerged as a laissez faire for the fortune hunters. Even the Chief Minister of Assam failed to dent the muscle wielding tactics of the syndicate men. At his initiative, the mercurial trade was taken up for investigation by CBI which resulted in the arrest of kingpin and two others. After that, everything was back to square one and there hangs the tale.
The route for the trade is well chartered. It begins from Meghalaya to Malidahar, Gumrah, Kalain, Katigorah, Badarpur and Karimganj, stretching to Bangladesh for the black diamond called coal. Assembly was rocked by questions from the opposition how the illegal trade could continue under the very nose of the civil and police administration of Cachar. Hailakandi MLA Anwar Hussain shared his own experiences and anguish over it before the media when he said the entire clandestine business is controlled by a well organized and well patronized syndicate, operating all the way from the rat hole mines of Meghalaya to the distribution and selling points and finally to the Bangladesh border.
In order to understand the modus operandi of the syndicate, this reporter came all the way to Malidahar, the dividing line between Assam and Meghalaya. It was 9 pm to see how the business begins late at night and continues till dawn. The police officer posted on the entry point of Malidahar left the spot, assigning the duty to a junior with a troupe of AP Bn. With that around 30 different four wheelers with middlemen as well as their musclemen disappeared from the sight. After crossing Malidahar Bridge towards Meghalaya at Ratabari, 118 trucks loaded with coals were seen parked in a serpentine manner, waiting for signal from the syndicate to move. And they began to move one after another as dictated by the operatives behind. A roadside dhaba (eatery) worker said, syndicates are active on both sides who liaison between the middlemen and drivers. After loading the coal from Meghalaya, the trucks have to settle the price with syndicate to cross over to Cachar. Then comes settlement with police. According to a well informed source, a coal laden truck has to cough up an amount ranging from Rs 60,000 to Rs 1 lakh, depending upon the quantum of coal, who is then given a token or pass as clearance.
Coals are then taken to different destinations for unloading. A 25 tonner truck has to pay as high as Rs 1.25 lakh, starting from the mine to Gumrah against its selling price of Rs 3 lakh. At the unloading point of Gumrah, the undeclared tax of Rs 30,000 is paid to middlemen. Coals are also of different quality. Coal for brick kiln is priced at Rs 4500 to Rs 5500 per ton and for tea garden the price per ton ranges from Rs 3000 to Rs 4000. Destinations of trucks are different. Since Meghalaya coal is in great demand in Bangladesh, the syndicate raj extends its wings to Sutarkandi, the international trade centre, near Karimganj. The average daily collection from this unauthorized trade in black diamond by the syndicate is not less than Rs 60 lakh which often touches the mark of Rs 1 crore.
Behind the façade of monitoring the trade, Assam police is posted at Malidahar during daytime. It is CISF, which takes charge at night. But, their presence is obscured by the muscle flexing syndicate under political patronage. The ever widening coal trade has seen mushrooming of depots at various places along the National Highway. The movement of coal laden trucks has greatly affected the normal life of peaceful citizens of Gumrah, Kalain, Katigorah, Badarpur and Karimganj. Upset and perturbed at this phenomenon, a public meeting was called by an NGO at Katigorah on February 11 to protest against the menace of this illegal trade.
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