ULFA steps up extortion demands to create terror among Assamese.
Irritated local residents have called ULFA's extortion drive as objectionable and unjustified from any standard. They say it will only damage the tea-dependent state economy.
"No, I do not think at all that this is justified. And for the last three decades, entire northeast has been the hunting ground of the terrorists, extremists groups and they have been extorting money at a very large scale and their main target has been the tea gardens. As we all know that tea gardens are playing a very vital role in Assam's economy, and it has been giving employment to thousands of people," said Prafulla Rajguru, a senior journalist.
"We believe that no militant groups, including ULFA, should attack the tea industry because it is against the interest of Assam's people," added Hemant Boruah, owner of a tea garden.
The locals said that by intensifying these extortion drives, the ULFA are directly looting the poor workers working in the tea gardens.
"We don't know whether what was demanded from the owner has been given or not. But they demanded heavy amount of money," said Bhupan Lohar, a labourer at a tea garden.
The outfit has served extortion notices to the tea planters and traders, demanding amounts between Rs 100,000 to 2.5 million while the rebels have also threatened tea garden-owners with warnings that their future demands would worsen if the extortion money was not paid.
As per the local police, about 11-12 cases of extortion by ULFA have been reported to the police in last three months alone.
Even as efforts to bring the banned ULFA to the negotiating table are on, the outfit, especially its 709 Battalion, continues to serve extortion letters to various persons, ranging from government officials to businessmen.
"As more and more people will work, more will they develop and more will the country's economy develop. But if more shutdowns and extortion cases will happen, people will feel scared and they will not work and no development will take place. The situation will remain the same," said Harpal Singh, a businessman.
Assam is a major tea producer in India, which contributes over 50 percent of country's tea production. There are more than 800 tea gardens in Assam, besides thousands of small tea growers.
India's northeastern region is home to more than 200 tribes and ethnic groups and is wrecked by separatist insurgencies. (ANI)
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