Rs 200 crore oil stolen, toll reaches 40

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Guwahati, Sep 22 (UNI) Authorities have stumbled upon an annual Rs 200 crore racket of oil theft masterminded by Naga militants from railway wagons near the Assam-Nagaland border where 40 laboureres, engaged in the operation, died after inhaling poisonous gas on Saturday.

After initial investigation the Assam Police recovered 500 plastic barrels from the spot.

''Each barrel's capacity is 160 litre. That simple arithmatic reveals a figure of Rs 32 lakh for a night's operation. We suspect that twice every week this operation was carried out and that too for years,'' Karbi Anglong Superintendent of Police N Goswami said.

The shaky NF railway authorities have announced a probe into the incident but police were convinced that the railways were involved.

''An investigation has been ordered,'' Railway CPRO Samir Goswami said.

The Numaligarh Refinery Limited(NRL), from where the wagon originated, as well as attending doctors of Diphu hospital had confirmed that a chemical reaction between petrol and chemical residuals of plastic containers caused the death of 40 people who were attempting to loot the petrol-laden train.

The incident occurred in the wee hours of Saturday at Saiding near Dimapur where more than 100 labourers had been engaged by an organised crime syndicate operated by Naga militants.

When they were siphoning off petrol to 500 plastic containers a chemical reaction set off leading to poisonous gas which killed 20 people and injured 80, Mr Goswami said.

Twenty other labourers of the locality were found missing as the crime syndicate removed the bodies of the gang leaders leaving behind the laboureres. According to police the death toll could be more than 40 as fearing the police, families of laboureres buried many bodies.

The police officials, doctors as well as refinery officials had come to a conclusion that the wagon was carrying only petrol and the plastic containers had some residual chemical which set off the chemical reaction.

''That is the sole reason. Because we have cross checked our dispatch inventory and found that the wagon was carrying only petrol,'' Mr Bhaskar Jyoti Phukan, Senior Manager of NRL, said.

The police suspect that more than 150 people were engaged in the operation as over 500 containers were recovered from the spot. The syndicate used to fill up drums in the dead of night and carry it over to Nagaland, a few hundred metres away, using the huge labour force.

''Each drum can contain approximately 160 litres. There were 500 drums and the size of the operation is around Rs 32 lakh per night.

We have information that the operation used to be carried out twice a week which means Rs 74 lakh every week,'' the source said.

The NF railway, which ordered a probe, suspect that the scam runs into more than Rs 200 crores a year.

''It is being controlled by Naga militants,'' said a railway source, and alleged that some of their officials were involved.

The surviving labourers, majority of whom had fled hospitals fearing arrest, confessed that they were offered Rs 1000 for a six hour shift of night work.

UNI MT PL SS1307

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