6 April 2018

NIA’s Naga Terror-Funding Probe Reveals Insidious Role Of Top Bureaucrats, Politicians And Church Elders

by Jaideep Mazumdar

An NIA probe revealed that Zeliang was personally involved in the collection of ‘taxes’ on behalf of the NSCN(K), with the state’s top officers allegedly collecting crores of rupees from government officials and businessmen and routing the money to the terror outfit. Former Nagaland chief minister T R Zeliang, on whose behalf the Christian church and clergy campaigned vigorously for the assembly polls held last month, is likely to be arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) for his role in funding Naga terror outfits like the S S Khaplang faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K). The NIA has been probing the role of politicians, bureaucrats and others – including so-called ‘Church elders’ – in funding the NSCN(K) and some other Naga terror outfits.

This ongoing NIA probe is a corollary to the original investigation into the June 2015 ambush on an Indian Army convoy in Manipur’s Chandel district that caused the death of 20 soldiers. The ambush was carried out by the NSCN(K), which had abrogated its ceasefire with the Government of India in March that year, a month before it was scheduled to come up for renewal. The NIA probe into the ambush opened up a can of worms and revealed the well-known secret of politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen and others openly collecting funds on behalf of Naga terror groups and also getting hefty commissions for their services.

The NIA probe, according to top officers of the agency, has revealed that Zeliang was personally involved in collection of ‘taxes’ on behalf of the NSCN(K). He had reportedly facilitated the collection and extortion of funds for the proscribed terror outfit, and had used his offices to route funds to the outfit. The NIA had summoned him a few weeks ago, but he has been avoiding the summons on various pretexts. Ultimately, realising that he could no longer avoid being questioned by the NIA, he appeared before the agency last weekend but requested that he be questioned at his residence since he is a senior citizen. The agency is examining the plea, which is quite a specious one since his ‘senior citizen’ status had not stopped him from travelling, attending office and campaigning intensively in the elections.

Till now, the NIA has arrested 10 Nagaland government officers, some of them quite senior, for collecting funds for the NSCN(K) and other terror outfits. The latest arrests were in the last week of March and the director of agriculture, an executive engineer of the rural development directorate and an accounts officer in the urban development directorate were taken into custody by the NIA. They had allegedly collected crores of rupees from government officials and businessmen and routed the same to the NSCN(K). In October last year, four officers – a former director of tourism, an additional director of agriculture, a joint director of irrigation department and a cashier of the fisheries department – were arrested on the same charges. These arrests were preceded by the arrests of three more – a joint director of the social welfare department, and a joint director and cashier of the land resources department – in April last year.

The NIA had made the arrests on the basis of documents, including demand letters and payment receipts, seized during raids carried out in 13 government offices in January last year and the subsequent interrogation of officers. The NIA probe has laid bare a very efficient and streamlined ‘tax collection’ system, where ‘taxes’ to be paid to terror outfits, were even being deducted before disbursement in many cases. The ‘terror tax’ ranged from 15 per cent to 24 per cent. The Isak-Muivah led faction of the NSCN (or the NSCN-IM) also collects ‘tax’ from government officers and it is reported that everyone, from a peon to the senior-most bureaucrat, has to pay a portion of his or her salary to the terror outfits.

It is not just government officials who have to pay such taxes. Businessmen also have to pay a substantial portion of their earnings to the outfits which have full knowledge of the earnings due to their sources in the sales and income tax departments. Contractors have to pay as much as 25 per cent of the contract amounts to the terror outfits even before undertaking the works. For instance, if a contractor bags a Rs 1 crore contract for constructing a road, he has to pay Rs 25 lakh to the various outfits –which the Nagas themselves call ‘Naga political groups’ – before starting the construction. Often, the amount is more than 25 per cent of the contract amount, and this is in addition to the money paid to the officers of the department, who again have to pay a portion of the bribes to the terror outfits. No wonder, then, that Nagaland has such pathetic roads and public infrastructure.

“It is ironical that the Indian taxpayer actually funds these terror outfits that wage a war on the Indian state. A huge amount of funds allocated to Nagaland for development works, social welfare projects, salaries and pensions and other heads are siphoned off by the militant groups. We have recovered enough evidence over the decades that prove the involvement of not only top politicians, bureaucrats and civil society leaders, but virtually all sections of society, in this extortion racket. Everyone in Nagaland, even the police, have to pay ‘taxes’ to the militant outfits,” said a senior Army officer posted at the Army’s 3 Corps headquarters at Rangapahar in Dimapur.

Documents seized over the decades by security and investigative agencies, including the Army, show the involvement of even the Christian church in this widespread extortion racket. “The church also collects money on behalf of the terror outfits and routes the amount collected to them, but also benefits from the extortion since it gets to retain a part of the sum collected for its activities, including evangelization,” said an Army officer who is on deputation to the Assam Rifles and posted at the Assam Rifles (North) headquarters in Kohima. This officer, who is also tasked with intelligence gathering, said that nearly a quarter of the state’s budget goes to various militant outfits of the state.

“All government officials, from top to bottom, used to have their salaries deducted at source before disbursement. Now, after the system of electronic transfers was introduced, Nagaland government officials pay the amounts in cash. There are designated persons in each department and office who collect the sums on behalf of the militant groups and these people also receive a commission. Many politicians also collect these ‘taxes’ from businessmen and others. The militant groups have ‘overground’ workers, usually office-bearers of their frontal bodies or relatives of the top-ranking militants, who then take the money collected and send it to the outfits using various channels,” the Assam Rifles officer said.

The Assam Rifles officer cited the case of Shelly Sumi, wife of NSCN(K) commander Niki Sumi, who had been arrested by the force in April last year at Karong in Manipur’s Senapati district with Rs 18.47 lakh in cash. But she got bail from a local court, which also ordered the amount to be returned to her. “The lower judiciary in Nagaland and Manipur, especially the hill areas of Manipur that are inhabited by tribes that call themselves Nagas, is severely compromised,” remarked the Assam Rifles officer. Surveillance on Shelly Sumi has revealed that many politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen are in regular touch with her and deposit the ‘taxes’ they collect from others with her. Niki Sumi, incidentally, is the prime accused in the June 2015 ambush.

The church in Nagaland is a powerful entity and has very strong and intimate links with the terror outfits. Church groups campaign for the outfits and often act at their behest. “We suspect that the NSCN(K) wanted Zeliang to retain power since he (Zeliang) is their man and they would have been able to grow stronger with him as the chief minister. The NSCN(K) thus asked the Baptist Church to launch a campaign against Zeliang’s opposition (the Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP-NDPP combine, which won the polls nonetheless),” said an NIA officer. The Nagaland Baptist Church Council had issued a highly communal appeal to voters to “choose between the trishul and the cross” (also read this article). It is a different matter that the church veto failed to make an impact.

Zeliang’s links with the terror outfits came to light last year itself. The NIA probe reportedly revealed that he (Zeliang) was in close touch with the NSCN(K). A central intelligence agency endorsed this finding. This, say many, was the reason behind the BJP breaking its alliance with Zeliang and the NPF and deciding to join hands with the newly-launched Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP). Zeliang, if arrested, would set the ignominious record of being the first person who held the post of chief minister to be arrested in a terror funding case.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

No comments: