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Rajasthan: Bans fail to loosen sand mining mafia’s vice-like grip

Kailash Meena, a social worker fighting against illegal sand and gravel mining in the state, said despite repeated court orders the government has failed to curb illegal ‘bajri’ mining.

Published: 21st February 2020 08:48 AM  |   Last Updated: 21st February 2020 08:48 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

JAIPUR: Taking strong exception to rampant illegal sand mining in Rajasthan, the Supreme Court had on Wednesday directed the state government, its collectors and superintendents of police to take immediate steps to stop it. This is, however, not the first time the apex court has done so. In 2017, a similar ban was imposed on river-sand (bajri) mining in Rajasthan. However, successive governments have failed to resolve the problem that takes place across river belts and mountainous regions in the state. A study Rich Lands, Poor People – Is sustainable mining possible? — conducted by the Centre for Science and Environment — revealed that Rajasthan has thousands of unorganised mines, which can be as small as one-twentieth of a hectare. They fall out of the purview of government control and there are no accounts of these mines.

Kailash Meena, a social worker fighting against illegal sand and gravel mining in the state, said despite repeated court orders the government has failed to curb illegal ‘bajri’ mining. ‘‘People involved in illegal mining are heavy-weights, including politicians, police officers, big corporates, bureaucrats etc. Around 90% of mining in the state is illegal. Hundreds of overloaded trucks with illegally extracted river sand pass through various state highways but the police and mining department officials remain mute spectators,” alleged Meena.

A CAG report tabled in Rajasthan Assembly in February 2018 revealed that the SC orders on mining are regularly violated. CAG observed that there were serious inadequacies in preventing illegal mining. “There was a lack of deterrence due to delay in issue of notices, raising demand and recovery of the penal amount from illegal miners. Also, there was slackness in implementing policy measures to curb illegal mining,” the CAG report reads.

According to the report, a scrutiny of the records of nine superintending mining engineers or mining engineers in five districts — Alwar, Jaipur, Sikar, Rajsamand and Udaipur — revealed that these offices registered 4,072 cases of illegal mining, transportation and storage of minerals during 2011-12 to 2016-17. “Around 98.87 lakh metric tonnes of minerals were found to have been illegally excavated. The department, however, could recover only `25.57 crore against the recoverable amount of `204.50 crore,” the CAG report said.

Speaking on the magnitude of the problem, a mining department official, who did not wish to be named, said that in Tonk alone losses worth `60 crore (approximately) have accrued last year. It means that in a decade the state has lost `600 crore worth of revenue. It’s not only the state which is bleeding revenue, the common man too is hit by it. “After the SC ban, the middlemen have hiked the price of sand. Earlier, we used to buy sand in a 500-foot vehicle for `15000-17000, now it costs us around `60,000. So ultimately the common man is the sufferer,” said Ballu Ram Choudhary, member of construction association in Jaipur.

President of All-Rajasthan Bajri Truck Operators’ Welfare Society, Naveen Sharma said illegal sand mining has been continuing since the ban in 2017. He said the ban was imposed as the operators did not have the required environment clearances. “We have made several representations to the government to make proper efforts to get the clearance from the Centre but our grievances remained unaddressed,” Sharma said, adding that the illegal mining was rampant in Tonk, Sawaimadhopur, Dholpur, Bhilwara, Sirohi and Jalore.

According to mines department data, between 2014 and 2017, around 2,514 cases of illegal mining were registered. The top five districts with the maximum number of cases were Bhilwara (261), Nagaur(180), Sikar(167), Jaipur (167) and Jhunjhunu (156). The mining department official also blamed the shortage of manpower for its failure to control illegal mining. “Around 100 km of the Banas River meanders through Tonk. The department has only one inspector and around three juniors to oversee this huge stretch. If we raid one area, the miners simply move their operation to another.”

The mining mafia also uses sophisticated technology to carry out their operation. Recently, during a crackdown in Dungarpur’s Som River, police seized 12 high-tech boats fitted with dredging equipment. However, the introduction of drones, which the department is planning to acquire, can soon change this scenario. Director of Mines and Geology department Jitendra Kumar Upadhyay said the SC is of the view that mining across river beds should be completely banned. He said small land titles across rivers should be granted so that the demand can be met and illegal supply stopped.

Stricter penalties

A department official, on the condition of anonymity, revealed that a proposal has been submitted to the government for increasing the penalty amount involved in cases of overloading or illegal mining

Action taken

10,638 booked for illegal activities by the mining department in 2019-20

694 FIRs filed 10,710 vehicles seized  `62 cr worth equipment seized

Mineral rich: Rajasthan holds reserves for 44 major and 22 minor minerals and is the only producer of garnet, jasper, selenite, wollastonite and zinc concentrates. It is also the leading producer of calcite, lead concentrate, ball clay, fireclay, ochre, phosphorite, silver and steatite. The state is best known for its production of marble, sandstone and other stones. But major minerals do not reflect the true picture of mining in Rajasthan; minor minerals and stone quarries do.

Rs 25,000 Current penalty for tractor trolly

Rs 1 lakh Proposed penalty

Rs 1 lakh Current penalty for trucks

Rs 1 lakh Current penalty for illegal use of earth movers

Rs 3 lakh Proposed penalty

Rs 8 lakh Proposed penalty

CRIMES PERPETRATED BY SAND MAFIA IN RAJASTHAN 

Feb 16, 2018: 50-year-old sarpanch Raghuveer Meena of Hathdoli village thrashed to death by mafia in Sawai Madhopur.
April 4, 2019: Tractor with illegal sand kills man in Jaipur’s Vidhyadhar Nagar.
Jun 12, 2019: Senior citizen Kishore Singh mowed down by a truck near Kardhani in Jaipur after he objects to trucks transporting bajri.
August 31, 2019: Two persons involved in alleged transportation of illegal sand killed while four others, including two cops, injured during a shootout in Dholpur’s Basai Dang area.
Nov 4, 2019: Tractor drivers transporting illegal sand fire at Police and Forest officials in Dholpur. 
Jan 25 , 2020: Suspected Bajri mafia attack ASI Rajesh Singh in Dholpur when he was inspecting stock of illegal gravel and sand.
Feb 12, 2020: 
A man and his infant daughter were killed after a tractor transporting illegal bajri hits the bike on which they were travelling.
Feb 12, 2020: 
A dumper truck transporting illegal sand hits schoolchildren in Barmer. While three children died, three others were seriously injured in the accident.

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