UP Election 2017: Mining and quarrying have changed Bundelkhand, will new government pay attention?

Uttar Pradesh election enters its fourth phase, with polling in 53 constituencies on 23 February. Out of 53, the voters of Bundelkhand region of the state, comprising 19 assembly seats spread over seven districts, will choose their representatives from BJP, Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance and Bahujan Samaj Party, who are the main players.

The region has been a hotbed of issues that have made the electorate angry while politicians have doled out innumerable promises to deliver if elected. Poor state or absence of infrastructure, under-developed industrial sector, illegal mining, migration to big cities, blatant violation of government norms and regulations, apathy towards environmental protection — all have combined to render the region backward, where driving during daytime on non-existent roads is a nightmare as thick dust and sand due to quarrying clog vision. Above all, the region has already made headlines for the severe drought it has experienced in three consecutive years.

But, when Bundelkhand steps out to vote this morning, in all likelihood, none of the above issues will matter to a majority of the electorate who would cast their vote guided by caste equations in the region.

Now let’s take a look at the problems plaguing the heritage, culture, mineral and historically rich Bundelkhand, dubbed as a region that is ‘drought-prone and under-developed’. While driving on the highway that passes through Mahoba district, also known as Alha-Udal Nagari named after the celebrated Rajput warriors who defeated the army of legendary Prithviraj Chauuhan many times, one would experience almost zero vision when it crosses Kavrai.

Small mountains and hills have been sliced for stone mining and quarrying. Firstpost/Debobrat Ghose

Small mountains and hills have been sliced for stone mining and quarrying. Firstpost/Debobrat Ghose

Kavrai is the epicentre of stone mining and quarrying, besides a large pocket in Jhansi. The state government has given licenses for stone and sand mining with an aim to provide employment to the local population, but the norms and regulations are hardly followed. In Bundelkhand, the sand and stone mining is a Rs 900 crore industry.

Small mountains and hills have virtually been cut in slices for quarrying. The stone dust emanating due to crushing of stones have been causing immense health problem for the local villagers and damaging the crops. People of adjoining villages have been found to be suffering from asthma and respiratory diseases including TB.

“Though the licenses are legal, but the operators don’t follow the norms due to which the entire environment has got damaged. You can see here the crops covered with a blanket of stone dust. Crop fields have been declared as ‘barren land’ and quarrying industry has been set up on farm land. The mining mafias including political leaders in collusion with local administration and pollution control board have got agricultural land declared as ‘barren’ land. As there is no other employment opportunity in this region of Mahoba, quarrying industry has flourished on these lands. The only industry here is stone mining and quarrying by bringing down the mountains and hills,” alleged Bundelkhand-based activist Ashish Sagar.

Stone mining and quarrying industry and dust have virtually turned agricultural fields into 'barren land'. Firstpost/Debobrat Ghose

Stone mining and quarrying industry and dust have virtually turned agricultural fields into 'barren land'. Firstpost/Debobrat Ghose

He added, “Besides, licensed mining, illegal mining has also thrived in years. As a result, there has been a big revenue loss to government exchequer. The CAG in its 2011 audit report had mentioned loss of revenue of Rs 205 crore in Bundelkhand due to this illegal activity. Days are not far when we may experience disaster similar to Uttarakhand. No political party except the BJP has mentioned in its manifesto that if it came to power, it would bring an end to land and mining mafia. But, the irony is that many of its candidates contesting in this election are associated with mining.”

Another agri-based industry that has got badly affected in Mahoba is betel-leaf (paan) cultivation. Mahoba is known for large-scale production of betel leaves and is supplied to different parts of the country. But, over the years, due to severe water crisis, drought and climate change have badly affected betel leaf cultivation.

“There is a betel leaf research institute here, but due to severe water crisis, lack of government support to cultivators, farmers not getting the benefits of government schemes—all have led to decline in production. The locals are unable to get employment from mining industry because the operators are using machines for those jobs which could have been done manually, as per government instructions. Labourers are not getting employment, but the government has given a blind eye to it,” alleged farmer-activist of Mahoba, Pankaj Singh Parihar.

Similar is the case with sand mining, where besides legal operation, illegal mining has thrived simultaneously. It’s a story of rags-to-riches, where people with hardly any means have made fortunes out of mining and then turned into political leaders—majority affiliated to Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party. Many of them have now switched their loyalties to BJP.

It needs to be seen whether Bundelkhand gets attention from the new government that will be formed after the election.

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Updated Date: Feb 23, 2017 09:07:06 IST

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