New Delhi, June 27 (IANS) A two-day 'economic blockade' called by Maoists in six states to protest special economic zones (SEZs) ended Wednesday on a violent note, causing losses of well over Rs.1.5 billion to the economy, officials said.
Although there were only a few incidents of violence, with a railway station torched in West Bengal, the protest crippled normal life in parts of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and West Bengal, proving the rebel clout in impoverished rural areas.
In West Bengal's Purulia district, about 50 guerrillas set fire to the Station Master's room at Biramdih railway station around 1.30 a.m. The attack destroyed the signalling system. Biramdih - on the Jharkhand-West Bengal border - is some 285 km from Kolkata.
'The (rebels) came and scared us away. We watched from a distance as they set the station on fire and fired gunshots in the air,' said Debasis Roy, a railway employee.
The Maoists shouted anti-government slogans and left behind leaflets and posters listing their demands. Three bombs were also found on railway tracks, a police officer said.
Train services between Bihar and Jharkhand, including the state capitals Patna and Ranchi, were cancelled. Normal life was disrupted in rural areas in four of Bihar's districts, officials and news reports said.
In Chhattisgarh, now the bloodiest battleground between the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) and security forces, rail and road traffic were badly hit in the southern Bastar region.
Public transport went off the roads and movement of iron ore from Dantewada district's Bailadila hills to Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh was halted, Girdhari Nayak, the inspector general of police (Maoist operation), told IANS.
Maoists blocked interior pockets of Bastar, Bijapur, Narayanpur, Dantewada and Kanker districts by placing wooden logs on the roads.
In Bihar, shops were closed and buses were off the roads in rural parts of Arwal, Jehanabad and Gaya districts as well as a few pockets in Patna district.
But the protest had no major impact in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa. A bus had been set on fire Tuesday in Andhra Pradesh, where the police have gunned down a string of Maoist leaders in recent times.
The blockade was an economic disaster, especially in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.
In Jharkhand alone, official estimates put the losses at around Rs.1.5 billion, spread over two days.
The railways have reportedly lost Rs.300 million due to cancellation of goods and passenger trains. At many places the Maoists destroyed railway property. In Latehar district, they burnt two engines and damaged 12 goods train bogies.
Around 1,500 buses did not ply during these two days, causing a loss of Rs.15 million. Trucks stood idle, leading to a loss of Rs.30 million.
The economic blockade also disrupted coal and iron ore production and transport, leading to losses of around Rs.600 million.
Businesses in the state have also been derailed by the blockade. The import and export business has been frozen for the two days causing losses of around Rs.500 million to traders, said a member of the Jharkhand Chamber of Commerce.
In Jharkhand, for the second day, rail and road traffic came to a complete halt. In rural areas, schools as well as colleges remained closed. Ranchi University has postponed examinations for postgraduate courses.
The CPI-Maoist called for the blockade to denounce SEZs. The party said SEZs were coming up on land taken away from farmers and being given away to industry at throwaway prices.
The police in West Bengal hunted for the attackers of the railway station, according to Inspector General of Police Jogesh Chattopadhayay. Meanwhile, shopkeepers kept their shops shut in the state's Purulia, Bankura and West Midnapore districts.
Most of Left-ruled West Bengal was, however, unaffected by the blockade.
Orissa police chief Amarananda Patnaik told IANS Wednesday: 'There is absolutely no incident. Everything is peaceful and normal today.'
Thousands have been killed by the Indian state since the Maoist rebellion began in 1967 in a village in West Bengal. The Maoists are now active in many states.