Sand slips

Where there is a river, there is sand. Called a minor mineral, it fulfils a major requirement of the booming construction industry. No wonder, many senior bureaucrats and politicians in power are hand-in-glove with local contractors to make huge gains from illegal sand mining. Even as the exchequer suffers, little attention is given to the long-lasting scars sand mining leaves on ecology. Communities fight on the river banks and in courts to keep sand reserves from getting exhausted.

Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava travelled to Madhya Pradesh, Anupam Chakravartty to Punjab, M Suchitra to Andhra Pradesh and Ashwin Aghor to Karnataka to examine the murky business of sand mining


Sand slips


IN his 11-year career as a civil servant, Girish Sharma has been transferred 11 times. The joint district collector of Sehore in Madhya Pradesh is not incompetent. But his work hurts the state’s political set-up. He would have been sent to another district on January 9 had he not moved court.

The government was irked with Sharma’s investigation into sand mining in Sehore, also the home district of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. The government was perhaps certain that no district collector would implement its directive against illegal mining issued a month ago. But Sharma did and prepared a report on illegal mining activities in the district.

Mafia at work
Till about 15 years ago, Morena district in Madhya Pradesh sheltered the country’s most feared dacoits in the ravines of Chambal. Just when the memories of kidnappings, ransom and encounters were fading, a new infamy surfaced. On March 8, Narendra Singh, an IPS officer, was crushed to death in broad daylight by a tractor loaded with illegally mined stone when he tried to stop it.
Singh, who started his service in 2009, was posted as sub-divisional police officer in Banmore near Morena in January. Within 45 days, he nabbed about 50 tractor trolleys of illegally mined sand and stones. “He complained of inadequate force. He was a brave boy. He used to write patriotic poetry and read about revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh,” Singh’s father Keshav Dev Singh says.
Senior district officials may call it an “isolated incident”, but it is a trend no one in Morena can miss. “We thought we were done with the tag of living in a dacoit region. But it has been replaced by the mining mafia,” says Asha Sikarwar, a Morena-based social activist. “Almost every family in the villages here owns a tractor trolley and a gun. Mining is the only source of livelihood. The community is so united that the entire village comes together to attack us if we try to stop them. The community forms a strong vote-bank for politicians,” says a senior police officer.
The Supreme Court has banned sand mining in the Chambal riverbed in Morena to protect the endangered ghariyals. But the sand mined from the river not only fulfils the district’s demand, but also that of nearby Gwalior, Agra in Uttar Pradesh and Bharatpur in Rajasthan.

To improve its image, the government had launched a month-long campaign against illegal sand mining between December 15, 2011, and January 15, 2012. All district collectors were asked to form teams of officials from mining, revenue, forest and police departments, which would take steps to stop illegal mining. In most districts, these officials seized vehicles and registered cases just for records. But in Sehore, the district collectorate decided to take the order at its face value.

Sharma sent a team of officers to a sand mine leased out to Madhya Pradesh State Mineral Corporation (MPSMC), a state-owned agency, in Ambajadeed village on the banks of the Narmada. The team, led by Nasrullaganj sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) Manoj Saryam, went unannounced and found illegal sand excavation on 51.3 hectare (ha) by Shiva Corporation Limited (SCL), a Rajasthan-based mining company, a contractor of MPSMC. It had illegally extracted 1.9 million cubic metre of sand with a whopping market value of Rs 378.7 crore. During two more operations, the team found that SCL had far exceeded its allotted 4 ha mining area each in Badgaon and Saatdev villages. It was illegally mining in 38 ha in Badgaon and 5 ha in Saatdev. Together, it accounted for sand worth Rs 112 crore. Saryam issued a show cause notice to the company through MPSMC.

The team also found that mining lease areas in the district were not demarcated on the ground before being assigned to the contractors. This resulted in actual mining areas far exceeding their allotted area. Lease for minor minerals were sanctioned without newspaper advertisements. This included all eight sand mines subleased to SCL by MPSMC. The government did not assess the illegally mined sand, causing great loss to the exchequer in terms of royalty, sales tax and income tax.

Sharma’s report, presented to the state government on January 9, also pointed out irregularities in stone mining by crusher operators. He recommended immediate cancellation of licences of SCL. Even before the report was submitted, news of illegalities in Sehore had become public, causing uproar in the Legislative Assembly. The leader of the opposition, Ajay Singh, set up a committee to probe the illegalities. Its report, released on January 16, found that SCL had illegally mined 661 ha against the allotted lease of 16 ha in Sehore’s Nasrullaganj sub-division.

Soon after Sharma submitted his report, the government transferred him. He moved the Jabalpur High Court seeking a stay. The court cancelled Sharma’s transfer orders, but the government took away the charge of mining from him. On March 1, the government renewed MPSMC’s lease for Ambajadeed village.

In fact, SCL enjoys a monopolistic share of MPSMC’s mines. About 60 per cent of the total mines in Madhya Pradesh have been allocated to the corporation. MPSMC says it has 464 mines. Of this, SCL has sublease in more than 250. “It is difficult to believe that one company got contracts of more than half of MPSMC’s mines. It smacks of favouritism. The probe team found illegal mining in just three mines. The sand extracted was worth Rs 490 crore. One wonders how much wealth the company has looted in the state,” says Ajay Dubey of Prayatna, a non-profit based in Bhopal.

The company’s near monopoly on sand mining has affected the market, says Soumitra Roy of Vikas Samvad, a non-profit. “Bhopal-Indore corridor is a construction hub. SCL has formed syndicates with builders and transporters in this corridor. They decide the price of sand in the state,” he says. In the last two years, the price of sand has increased from Rs 2,400 per truck to Rs 7,000 per truck, a Bhopal-based builder says.

madhya pradesh“Nobody knows about SCL’s stakeholders. It was involved in illegal mining in the chief minister’s constituency without any fear. This shows that powerful people at the top have interest in this business,” says Singh, the leader of the opposition. On some occasions, the government has openly defended the company’s interest.

In January, the SDM of Budhni in Sehore seized 150 truckloads of illegally stored sand near SCL’s mines. The district collector advertised for its auction. On January 23, S K Mishra, managing director of MPSMC, wrote to the Sehore collector to cancel the auction and release the sand to the corporation. Mishra is also secretary to the state mineral resources department and secretary to the chief minister. His position suits MPSMC and, in turn, its contractors.

In January this year, the collector of Chhatarpur advertised for auction of 158 leases of minor minerals. Chhatarpur is on the Uttar Pradesh border and has 103 sand mines. This sand goes to Uttar Pradesh and fetches a good price. On February 15, MPSMC wrote to the mining department requesting it to ask the Chhatarpur collector to cancel the auction and transfer the sand mines to the corporation. Despite protests from contractors and panchayat bodies, the department transferred the mines to the corporation the next day.

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