Police in New Delhi have arrested Soni Sodhi for her alleged involvement in negotiating and delivering protection payments from the Essar Group to Maoist rebels in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, India Today reported.
Civil rights activists criticized Sodhi's arrest, saying that she is not a Maoist and Chhattisgarh's security forces have targeted her for persecution due to her role in protests aimed at freeing Dr. Binayak Sen -- a health worker who was jailed for two years without trial for his alleged links to the Maoists, then freed due to a lack of evidence.
Earlier, a spokesman for the Maoists denied taking extortion payments from Essar to allow the company to continue mining activities in the tribal belt, according to India's Hindu newspaper.
The Communist Party of India (Maoist) has denied allegations of a financial agreement between the armed guerilla group and the Essar Group, a giant multinational with revenues of $20 billion, to allow the company to operate an iron-ore processing facility in rebel-affected territories in Chhattisgarh, the paper said.
“Our party has opposed the Essar ever since it began operations in Bastar,” the Hindu quoted spokesperson Gudsa Usendi as saying in a recorded statement sent to the paper. “It is completely false to suggest that we have taken money from Essar.”
On Wednesday, Chhattisgarh police summoned top Essar officials, including CEO Dilip Oommen, for questioning, the Times of India reported. They then transferred the probe into allegations against Essar to a special investigative team (SIT) as it is a "serious and sensitive" case. Essar Steel is charged with paying protection money to Maoists through a contractor.