Ranchi, Jan. 25: Maoists struck at a Lohardaga village and set road construction equipment worth Rs 60 lakh ablaze last night, barely 24 hours before Union minister Jairam Ramesh arrived in Ranchi to take stock of development projects being pursued in the rebel-hit state.
According to an eyewitness, a squad of around 40 guerrillas reached Manhe Mahugaon village in Kisko, about 20km from the Lohardaga district headquarters, around 10.30pm and began torching the equipment lined up for construction of the 12km-long Badla- Turiyadih Road.
"Among the equipment set on fire were a 'road leveler', a 'vibrator' for mixing construction material and a 'roller' to smoothen the surface of the road. It took the rebels an hour to set fire to each one," said the eyewitness, a local resident.
Lohardaga superintendent of police Jitendra Kumar confirmed the involvement of the Maoists.
"We are concerned about the disruption in development work… the rebels targeted the district after a long time," he said, but added they were yet to find out the immediate provocation for the strike.
The Maoists, the police maintained, had neither threatened nor demanded levy from the contractor assigned to work on the Rs 232 crore road project.
Moreover, sources said the contractor assigned the work was Dilip Kumar, a relative of Palamau MP and JMM leader Kameshwar Baitha, who was a Maoist before joining mainstream politics.
"Before being elected MP on a JMM ticket, Baitha was a Maoist and thus rebels aren't expected to trouble one of his close relatives," another local resident reasoned.
Kumar, too, admitted the police were baffled.
"The incident is a mystery for us as it has happened after a long time. The contractor told us Maoists had neither demanded levy nor threatened him before. It could be that they are trying mark their presence to launch a collection drive from businessmen and industrialists in the near future," he said.
On May 3, 2011, Maoists had ambushed 11 security personnel engaged in anti-Naxalite operations in the Dhardharia forest under Senha police station in Lohardaga.
The rebels had planted as many as 192 IEDs connected to detonators using a special wire to facilitate simultaneous explosions with devastating effect.