Utopia on lease

Reality takes hold in Rajasthan

Published: Friday 15 July 2005

-- it sounds like a utopian dream. Mineworkers owning the mine in which they toil, not by fluke but by Rajasthan government policy: provisions under the Rajasthan Minor Mineral Concession Rule, 1986 state that licenses for quarrying minor minerals be given on priority to "manual workers belonging to scheduled castes (sc)/ scheduled tribes (st) and other backward classes (obc) employed in mines" and "people st and obc". If two people apply for a license for the same quarry, a person of a backward community gets priority.

The policy's great, but reality's greater. Numerous cases have come to light in the past few months where this very clause has been misused by the higher classes). Destitute sc / st or obc mineworkers do not even know they actually own the mine they are working in as daily wage labourers. A widow of a labourer receives a notice, 13 years after his death, in which she is informed that her dead husband's license had been cancelled, the very one he was completely unaware about. Numbers say the policy is working. Mining licenses are being doled out to backward communities. Reality dictates the upper castes are laughing all the way to the bank.

The policy was meant for the very people who depend for survival on natural resources. The aim was to let these communities use the resources, work the mines manually and live better. Not only would they be empowered, the area would be saved from the plunder of mechanised mining. For -- so went the logic behind the policy -- their motive would not just be the mineral and the profits from it: if they reached the water table, they wouldn't drain it out and carry on mining (as entrepreuners do). Intensely aware of resource interlinkages, these mineowners would ensure that their families as well as the environment would be better looked after.

But it is the entrepreneur who owns the mine, by blatant proxy, today. All profits accrue to him, while the real owner toils on, for Rs 40-50 a day. And mining areas are plundered and left barren once the last tonne of mineral has been removed. The government may as well do away with this policy. Till the time it can ensure the benefits reach the people they are meant for, it will continue to be an ally of those who already have all the opportunities and are now stealing more from those that have none.

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