A discreet raid and Uttarakhand mining mafia is caught with its pants down

Dehra Dun : The administration had been paying a Nelson’s eye top the large scale illegal mining being done in the nullahs, streams and rivers even before Uttarakhand was formed. It was hoped that with the formation of the new hill state the government will wake up to the rampant theft going on at a massive scale, but things did not change.

Regardless which party was at the helm of affairs in the state, the mining mafia called the shots and courtesy the hand-in-glove operation of the district authorities, especially the men in khakhi, who conveniently looked the other way, river beds were literally dug with excavators as truck loads of sand, gravel and stones filled the coffers of the lobby.

Despite continuous exposures by the regional newspapers, almost on a day-to-day basis carrying pictures of trucks and tractor trolleys operating without a fig of thought or fear of the district authorities, the operations were done in the full knowledge of the concerned authorities. They obviously had reasons to look the other way.
Trucks, tractors fitted with trolleys and even carts would reach the river and stream beds at dusk and their operations would continue till dawn. Whenever it was decided to conduct a raid, for purposes of putting it on record that raids were being conducted, the mafia was informed well in advance and no truck or tractor trolley would be seen.

Aware that the operations had reached mammoth proportions and there was not only a close nexus between the law enforcers and law breakers, but the illegal mining was hand-in-glove operation, the two top Dehra Dun district officers decided to conduct a raid without letting anyone in the lower ranks know of the date or time.

And the midnight operation yielded the desired results. As many as 64 vehicles loaded with sand, gravel and stones were seized and about 25 persons taken into custody, as the mining mafia knowing that they would be informed in case of a raid were carrying their on their illegal operations freely without any fear. Though there are reports that in the resultant chaos, quite a few vehicles managed to flee by not switching on their headlights.

As was in the full knowledge of the authorities, the maximum vehicles were seized from the Sahaspur area, but there are rumours that someone had tipped off the lobby in the Vikasnagar area, where the maximum illegal mining takes place in the Yamuna river bed, for just six vehicles were seized in this region.

As one side of the river bed falls in Uttarakhand and the other in Himachal Pradesh, the drivers of the trucks involved in the illegal mining go to the Himachal Pradesh side, if the raid is conducted by the Uttarakhand staff and to the Uttarakhand side if the Himachal Pradesh staff gets active. But the low number of vehicles seized indicate that there was a tip-off, for at any moment of time there are at least 40 to 50 vehicles involved in the illegal mining in the area.

It is not only the state government that is being deprived of the royalty that should go to the state exchequer if legal mining leases are given, but during the monsoons, when the rivers and streams are flowing, persons crossing them fall into the deep holes made by the miners and are swept away by the swift currents.

In fact, official sources on conditions of anonymity told Hill Post that several times proposals had been made to legalise the mining in the rivers and streams by giving them on lease, but every time the move was nipped in the bud by the strong mining mafia that has links with the politicians who matter in the state.

They said that by ensuring that mining was not legalized, the mining mafia not only did not have to pay royalty on the sand, gravel and stone that was illegally mined, but they did not have to pay the lease money to the government either. In this was they were taking everything free and just bearing the cost of labour and transportation.

Sources admitted that as a handful of the mining mafia was conducting the illegal mining operations, they were also calling the shots as far as the price that the consumers had to pay for the construction material. “If it was legal mining and there are other players also, then the material is freely available and the prices are much lower”, they claimed.

A journalist with over 40 years of experience, Jagdish Bhatt is Editor Hill Post (Uttarakhand). Jagdish has worked with India's leading English dailies, which include Times of India, Indian Express, Pioneer and several other reputed publications. A highly acclaimed journalist, Jagdish is a recipient of many awards, latest being the 2011 Development Journalism Award. He lives in Dehra Dun.

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