Sand mafia replaces dacoits as agent of terror in Chambal ravines
Often accused of being in cahoots with the mafia, the government usually goes through motions, ordering enquiries and granting ex-gratia cash support to the relatives of the victim.
Bhopal: Guns have gone silent in the infamous Chambal ravines that once sheltered dacoits. For nine years now, the mining mafia has emerged as new synonym for terror in the region. Like in the past the crushing of Dharmendra Singh, a constable of Madhya Pradesh Police under a sand-laden truck caused just a brief flutter in the region. Life is coming back to normal at a fairly quick pace. Normalcy means acceptance of mining contractors and traders unbridled reign in the region.
The Supreme Court had ordered a ban on sand mining in the state nine years ago. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has also prohibited mining. The ban exists on paper. Mining department records show no contracts having been offered in the region over this period. But mining has gone on unhindered not just in Chambal region but also in all other river beds in the state. The state illegally exports sand to the neighbouring states like Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh via Chhindwara and Sidhi districts. Sand mining in parts of Chhindwara district is conducted by Mafiosi from the neighbouring Nagpur district.
With the booming construction industry needing sand and gravel in bulk the state politicians, bureaucrats and police profit more from the ban rather than a regulated availability of these materials. The state government had through a cabinet decision last year announced a policy for supply that would check illegal mining and trade. The policy has not been implemented so far.
In Chambal region murders have become commonplace especially when honest police staff try to chase the culprits. Most policemen have compromised either for money or for fear of lives. A large part of the Chambal river reserved as sanctuary for crocodiles and migratory birds has also fallen prey to illegal mining or quarrying. Stones are quarried to be exported to Rajasthan. Around 300 villages in Morena districts are affected by illegal mining. Villagers who complain against malpractices have to pay with their lives.
A special investigation team of the police appointed on the chief minister’s orders reconstructed the incident and suggested that a posse of armed police force that watched Dharmendra Singh battle with the culprits could have saved their colleague. The two-faced approach of the police was also evident when the murder was first recorded as accident. The Director General of the state police Surendra Singh was among the first to suggest the overturning of the truck was an accident. After a public outcry, however, the government was forced to correct the FIR.
The initial reaction from the government was to just make the driver a fall guy. Sustained public pressure forced the government to book Ram Lakhan Singh Gurjar, the truck owner.
Often accused of being in cahoots with the mafia, the government usually goes through motions, ordering enquiries and granting ex-gratia cash support to the relatives of the victim. But it rarely makes an effort to rein in the elements behind the crime.
In March 2012 Narendra Kumar, an IPS officer who tried to stop a tractor trailer carrying boulders, was crushed under similar conditions. The government avoided order a CBI enquiry despite protracted agitation. The driver of the tractor served a short sentence for causing death by negligence. The government made no effort to book the contractor behind unauthorised quarrying. The police had passed the colleague’s murder as an accident.
Satya Pal Singh Sikarwar, a legislator from the ruling BJP, says the mining mafia enjoys the support of the police force in the region. "Every police station in Morena district is on the payroll of the miners," he was quoted as saying. The police on the other hand say the mafia is emboldened by the support from the ruling party. Even in the latest case the driver of the truck that crushed Dharmendra Singh is reported to have contacted a BJP leader for support.
Even the battalion of Special Armed Force (SAF) posted in the Chambal region on the directive of Madhya Pradesh High Court were quietly removed under pressure from the mafia. Neither the police nor the public cared to move the court against the contempt.
In another recent incident on 25 March in the Malakhedi village of Hoshangabad just over 100 km from the state capital Bhopal, Anita Choudhary, a lady mining inspector was attacked when she tried to take action against a group involved in illegal mining in Narmada river.
In June last year, a sub-divisional magistrate Rajesh Rathore was overpowered and shot at while leading an operation against sand excavation in the neighbouring Bhind district. In March last year Vishwanath Singh, another SAF jawan was fired at in Morena when he tried to prevent eight tractor trolleys loaded with illegally mined sand. Singh sustained bullet injury near the spine.
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