Chhotomoni Mahato (65), who earns her keep by plucking saal leaves in Patri village of West Midnapore, contributed Rs 10 to a Maoist-backed organisation to dig a pond in the area.
Those employed in various jobs in the locality are asked to stump up 20-25 per cent of their income for similar so-called development projects.
This is the Lalgarh area, 160 km west of Kolkata, deep inside West Midnapore district. Maybe extortion, but the Maoists have taken over the civic services, the law and order machinery, and even the judicial services in the area.
It is a “secret state” that seems to have survived the onslaught of 5,000 personnel of the Centre-state combined forces for the past one year.
In June last year, Hindustan Times went to discover this state within a state, carefully shielded from the public eye, emerging in different parts of West Midnapore.
The picture hasn’t changed.
In Kalsibhanga village, members of the Maoist-backed People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA) have created an irrigation canal that is 1,200 feet long, 5 feet wide, and also 5 feet deep.
The canal is connected with a pond that is 10 bigha (10 bighas = 144,000 square feet) in area. “This monsoon, we expect the surrounding farmland to get the needed irrigation through this canal. It will definitely increase rice production,” Manoj Mahato, PCAPA central committee member, told HT.
Inspector General (Western Range) of Police Zulfikar Hasan said: “We are aware that the PCAPA is running health centres. We have closed some of them.”
While there are allegations of extortion from local contractors, traders and service holders, the rebels say the contribution of funds and labour from people is voluntary.
The rebels have built and repaired roads of 50 km in some villages of the Jhargram sub-division.
The PCAPA claims to have dug about 200 wells, besides renovating around 1,000 existing ones, in their areas of domination, which spreads over 27 police stations in the three districts of West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia.
“The CPI(M)-led government in West Bengal never carried out development in this area,” said Lalmohan Mahato.
He had been a CPI(M) member before quitting the party in early 2009, in protest against corruption.
In Rameshwarpur village under the Bhimpur panchayat, the rebels run a health centre that offers service for 12 hours in the day. There are two doctors here though there are nine untrained persons who offer medical consultancy.
“This centre treats about 100 patients every day,” said Mahato.
The centre was in a government building that housed an anganwadi unit (mother- and child-care centre) before the rebels took it over more than a year ago.
There are 35 such health centres in the entire district. Rameshwarpur functions as headquarters for health services and medicines are dispatched from here.
In April 2010 the combined forces raided this centre and seized medicines, which was a temporary setback for the Maoist dispensation. “The forces took away medicines worth Rs 40,000 and smashed the almirahs,” said Haripada Mahato, in charge of the Rameswarpur health centre.
However, West Bengal CPI(M) State Secretariat member Robin Deb said the government had no objection to health centres, which are good for people. But if arms and ammunition is stored in them, the security forces must intervene.
The rebels are building a six-bed hospital next to the Rameswarpur health centre. “The basement has been built. It will be functional in two months,” Haripada Mahato said.
“Are they really building a hospital there?” asked an incredulous Aneesh Sarkar, deputy superintendent of police (operations), West Midnapore.
He is in the dark about it.