Was Richard a victim of a culture of hate?

Was Richard a victim of a culture of hate?

A Manipuri student is beaten to death. And it took a week-long storm of protests across the country for the Bengaluru police to act, reports Imran Khan

Richard Loitam

Horrifying attack Richard was found dead in his hostel

IN A bid to contain the controversy over the police handling of the Richard Loitam case, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in damage control mode in Karnataka. Convenor of the BJP’s Northeast India Sampark Cell Sunil Deodhar held a press conference on 30 April, assuring necessary steps were being taken by the government to solve the case. Deodhar and state Home Minister R Ashok, however, ruled out any racial angle. The minister further promised an impartial probe into the case. Meanwhile, two students Vishal Banerjee and Syed Afzal Ali, who are prime suspects in the case, have been booked under Section 302. Bengaluru SP D Prakash has also written a letter to the forensic science laboratory to prepare the report as early as possible considering the nature of the crime.

Richard Loitam, a student of architecture at the Acharya NRV School of Architecture in Bengaluru North, was found dead under mysterious circumstances in his hostel room on 18 April. Students from the Northeast region had staged a protest in the city on 29 April, demanding justice for Loitam. They suspect that the 19-year-old was killed by fellow students with whom he had had a fight a day before his death. The family suspects that his death was racially motivated and charged the college authorities and the police of attempting to cover up the truth. Several gaps in the police investigation, undue delay in reporting the crime and photographs of the body somehow lend credibility to the family’s accusation.

In his statement to the police, hostel warden S Sudhakar said that Loitam and his two hostel mates, Banerjee and Syed, had fought over an IPL match at 8 pm on 17 April. During the quarrel, Loitam was punched on his face by Syed. After that Loitam went back to his room at 10.30 pm and then watched a film on his laptop. He even informed his roommate Saurabh that he’d not be attending college the next day. On 18 April, Sudhakar and Saurabh found Richard dead with blood oozing out of his nose and black spots all over his body.

Richard’s uncle Bobby Loitam, however, points out differences in the statements given to the police by Sudhakar and Saurabh. Bobby says that Saurabh has mentioned in his statement that he found Richard dead when he came back from college at 1.30 pm. Whereas Sudhakar says that Saurabh was sleeping in his hostel room till 1.30 pm, and then found Richard dead when he tried to wake him up. Sudhakar refused to speak to TEHELKA when contacted and Saurabh couldn’t be contacted as he was in Bangkok for a vacation.

Richard’s family raises many questions such as why were they not informed about Richard’s death on 18 April itself? Why was there a delay in taking Richard’s body to the hospital? The claim by the college authorities that he died of injuries sustained in a road accident two days before his death has led them to believe that there has been an effort to hush up the case. According to the family, the police registered a case at 6.30 pm on 18 April and did not do a spot investigation till 19 April. The hostel room was cordoned off and sealed for investigations on 20 April. No crime photographers or forensic experts were called in for crime scene investigation. Bobby says, “They didn’t even confiscate the laptop to check whether Richard was actually watching a film, as claimed by the warden.”

However, SP Prakash says, “We will confiscate the laptop only when it’s required. We have videographed everything and searched the room. We are waiting for the final post mortem report”. Denying allegations of a cover-up, Prakash states that there is nothing to hide and an impartial inquiry is being conducted. Richard’s family has lodged a case with the city police.

Richard’s mother with his photograph

In grief Richard’s mother with his photograph
Photo: David Mayum

The preliminary post mortem report says that Richard died due to brain haemorrhage caused by external blows to his body. Dr L Thari, a medico legal expert with the Manipur government, says, “He was hit by a blunt object that caused bleeding. His body was swollen and had black spots all over. The preliminary report also points to injuries on his thighs, eyes and face. This is a fit case of homicide”.

DEAN OF the college Dr Vasanth Bhatt denied of any cover-up. Speaking to TEHELKA, he said, “Let’s not jump to any conclusions”. As for the allegations levelled by the college that Richard was a drug addict and died due to his earlier injury, Dr Bhatt said, “The investigations are on and I wouldn’t like to comment on it”. He added, “The boy was temperamental and he shouldn’t have stayed up till late night”.

Monika Khangembam, a protester in Bengaluru, and others have started an online campaign on Facebook to demand justice for Loitam. The group has over 180,000 members. Khangembam, a postgraduate student, says, “We need to raise our voice against such racism and bias faced by several of us here”.

Loitam’s father has been hospitalised as he could not bear the shock. His mother, Dr Loitam Ongbi Vidyabati, who performed the last rites of her son, spoke to TEHELKA over the phone from Manipur. “Just two days before his brutal death, he had called us and told us that he wanted to shift from the hostel. Though he didn’t give any reason, he sounded quite troubled.” She says that she is demanding justice not just because of Loitam, but because “I don’t want anybody else to suffer my son’s fate”.

Imran Khan is a Senior Correspondent with Tehelka.
imran@tehelka.com

KAZIRANGA: Where the wild things were

Reckless mining and stone quarrying is devouring the wild habitat in Kaziranga.Ratnadip Choudhury tracks the high-stakes game

Stone age Stone quarrying in the Methoni Tea Estate, close to the park; Photos: Luit Chaliha

THE FAMED Kaziranga National Park in Assam finds itself in an interesting quandary, where human livelihood clashes with animal habitat. A petition filed in the National Green Tribunal (NGT) by RTI and environmental activist Rohit Choudhury on 17 December 2011 alleged that the Assam government had wrongly issued permits to stone crushers in Kaziranga, violating a 1996 notification of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), which declared an area within a 15 km radius of the Numaligarh Oil Refinery as No-Development Zone (NDZ). The notification says that operators needed prior permission from the MoEF to operate quarries in the area. The refinery is about 20 km away from the eastern boundary of the national park.

The stone crushing and quarrying industry around the Kaziranga National Park might not appear huge in area, but the stakes run high. Until the end of 2011, quarrying was highly unregulated, though within the bounds of legality. Following Choudhury’s petition, the NGT passed an interim order on 15 February 2012 asking the Tarun Gogoi government not to renew or issue fresh permits to stone crushers or stone quarrying units in the area.

The government officially claims that no permit has been issued after 31 December 2011 and that it did not renew existing permits. However, as TEHELKA found during its investigation, most of these units are ‘functional’ even without a permit.

“The NDZ was declared keeping in mind the eco-sensitivity of the area, but the forest department paid no heed to the notification and randomly issued licences,” says petitioner Choudhury. “What’s worse, even the MoEF was not aware of the notification nor did it ever check to see whether its own rules were being implemented properly, putting Kaziranga at the mercy of a money minting nexus.”

The nexus Choudhury alludes to comprises the stone mafia, a few surrendered United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) militants-turned-contractors, politicians, and government officials. “Most stone crusher permits are in the name of tribals from the adjoining Karbi Anglong district, who let them out on rent. A syndicate of businessmen, particularly from the Marwari community, and a few surrendered ULFA functionaries run the show,” says a local youth, on condition of anonymity, explaining the modus operandi. “Green laws mean nothing because political parties, forest officials and cops all get their cuts.”

Locals enumerate 50-odd legal and illegal stone crushers and quarries around the national park spread across the three districts of Golaghat, Nagaon and Karbi Anglong. TEHELKA has in its possession an RTI reply from the park authorities, dated 28 March 2011, which categorically says 10 units are within 5 km of the national park while nine others are located within 5-10 km of the wild habitat. Another RTI document shows that the state pollution control board had been issuing pollution clearance certificates to stone mining industries, violating the 1996 NDZ order of the MoEF.

“With unregulated quarrying, water and mud from the quarries are destroying the paddy fields, crushers have diverted elephant routes; the stone crushers also serve as hideouts for poachers,” rues local resident Deben Deka.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has also called the stone mining around Kaziranga a ‘major threat’ to the animal habitat. “Stone mining and crushing is a huge menace for wildlife in and around Kaziranga,” says Anupam Sharma of WWF. “The noise from the blasts in the quarries and the movement of workers and trucks create havoc among the animals, particularly elephants, affecting their movement. In the past five years, man-elephant conflict situations have risen in fringe villages close to Kaziranga.”

THE DECISION to ban the quarries has not come as a welcome move to everyone, though. While those fighting to preserve the sanctity of the national park want the rule to be implemented more in spirit than letter, there are others who cry foul. This high-stakes game has many players.

Standing in front of his stone crusher unit at Garmur in Bokakhat sub-division, Sandeep Nimodia is close to tears. “We have been in this business for decades,” he says. “We have paid taxes. Now, all of a sudden, we have to shut down.” Nimodia’s unit dates back to 1992. His licence was renewed every year until now. “Neither the NGT nor the government can take a onesided decision. What will happen to our and our workers’ families?” he fumes.

In 2003, the stone crushers petitioned the Gauhati High Court asking for relaxation of norms after the forest department had asked them to submit the MOEF clearance for setting up industries within 25 km of the Kaziranga National Park. On 3 March 2011, the court quashed the petition and ruled that no industry could operate in the 25 km radius of the park without clearance from the MoEF.

The court also ruled that absolutely no industry could be set up within the 10 km eco-sensitive zone of the park. Interestingly, both the Assam government and the respondent on behalf of the stone crushers informed the NGT that they were “not aware” of the high court verdict.

The state government has even admitted before the NGT to violating norms by issuing permits for stone mining in industrial estates in the area. Government rules allow only sawdust and wood-based industries. The MoEF’s lackadaisical attitude has not helped matters. It has not been able to reply to the NGT petition since it is “unable to trace the relevant documents”.

What TEHELKA found in Kaziranga and surrounding areas should be an eye-opener for the MoEF. Less than 5 km from the national park, in the periphery of Methoni Tea Estate, a huge stone quarry is sending around 25 truckloads of stones to a crusher nearby every day.

“It used to be an elephant corridor to Karbi Anglong, but due to the quarries the elephants are straying, they enter fringe villages and destroy crops,” says villager Rupam Saikia, adding one more voice to the din of stakeholders. “Huge earthcutters scare the animals, and we are too scared of the stone mafia to protest.”

The situation on the ground is extremely fragile and complex. On 1 January 2012, the state forest department issued a notice to owners of 18 stone crushers asking them to shut operations. TEHELKA found almost all of them functioning in broad daylight. The stone mafia manning one of these mines even physically assaulted the TEHELKA team. “We will not allow the crushers to close down. We will kill anyone who tries to stop our only source of income and you journalists will not be spared,” an angry crusher worker shouted. His words sum up the dilemma.

The stone mining industry provides livelihood to thousands of uneducated, unskilled local and migrant labourers.

A worker in a stone quarry earns up to Rs 200 a day; each crusher does a business of up to Rs 2 crore a month. “Not only stone crushers, but hotels, petrol pumps and truckers also earn their living from this industry,” says Hari Prasad Agarwala, respondent at NGT on behalf of the stone crusher units. “We are also from the area and our workers have helped save animals during floods.”

If environmentalists and the stone crusher lobby were not enough, too many middlemen have added to the chaos. “We have permits that were not renewed, now we are not sure if we can operate,” says a crusher owner on condition of anonymity, “yet we have to pay running costs like electric bills, EMIs of bank loans, workers’ wages. Add to it, donation demands from Karbi militants and cuts to forest officials, cops and politicians. Even local NGOs and journalists have extorted money from us.”

ON AN average, stone crushers send out 150 truckloads of stone every day to various construction projects, particularly in upper Assam. “The 1996 MoEF notification lacks clarity. Further, it only puts restriction on crushers coming up after 1996, but we have had crushers here since 1984. We are being made to pay for the forest department’s goof-up,” says Dilip Chaudhury, a crusher owner at Bokakhat.

Even politicians are wary. “Kaziranga is our prime concern,” says local Congress MLA Arun Phukon. “All stakeholders will have to be sensitive and respect the NGT’s verdict, but at the same time, we cannot ignore the workers.”

In this fight between biodiversity concerns and livelihood issues, it is the Kaziranga National Park that comes out a loser. The park saw tension in 2010 when tour operators, jeep safari owners and the resort lobby vehemently protested the implementation of stringent rules of eco-sensitive zone for a tiger reserve; they felt it would harm the tourism industry.

As activist Debojit Bhuyan aptly puts it: “The irony for Kaziranga is that its economy is dependent on the park, there are not many government or private jobs. Tourism is facing the animal conservation hurdle and stone crushers are in the way of biodiversity concerns.”

REPORTER’S DIARY

‘The proof was there right in front of us’

ON 19 April, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) asked the MoEF to submit a site inspection report by 23 May on a number of industrial units functioning inside the No-Development Zone near the Kaziranga National Park. We decided to look for the truth.

Our source had already informed us that quarries and crushers were operating with the government choosing to look the other way. Our main objective was to look for case studies in three areas: the No-Development Zone, the Karbi Anglong Elephant Reserve and the area around the Kaziranga National Park.

On 24 April, we found a stone crusher in Borbheta under the Bokakhat sub-division near Kaziranga, where a giant automated stone crusher was at work and trucks full of stones were waiting to be unloaded. It was all in front of us, giving the lie to the government claim.

Before we could go looking for the owner, we were spotted by a group of 35-40 workers, who surrounded us and demanded that we hand over our camera to them. Photographer Luit Chaliha was roughed up and his camera broken. It was with the help of the local police that the situation was prevented from getting out of hand. The attack made one thing clear — that shutting a quarry in the region would prove to be an uphill task. Too many people’s livelihoods depended on the quarries for them to care about the ecosystem. It is this quandary that has been explored in the story.

On the upside, the attack woke up the administration and mining in the area has scaled down. What the state couldn’t accomplish, TEHELKA did at the cost of a broken camera.

With inputs from Dhruvajyoti Saha

Ratnadip Choudhury is a Principal Correspondent with Tehelka. 
ratnadip@tehelka.com

Eviction Update Ambujwadi Slum dwellers and Kolis fight back demolition

Eviction Update | Mumbai, May 30, 2012

Ambujwadi Slum dwellers and Kolis fight back demolition
  • Slum dwellers fight back demolition in Ambujawadi and Koliwada. Dharna on day two also.
  •  Medha Patkar and seven other detained  in another case of demolition in Sion Koliwada and released late in night
  • Complaints against police and BMC officials lodged. DCP asks for time till June 2nd for filing FIRs
  •  SVM demands long term solution to forced evictions in Mumbai.
Collector issued eviction notice to residents of Ambujawadi yesterday (28th May, 2012).  The notice ordered the slum dwellers to leave their place within 24 hours.  This is the fourth time Ambujawadi receives a notice after their slum was completely demolished in 2005.
Officials came with 5 van loads of police and bulldozers to demolish early in the morning as residents gathers in numbers resisting the demolition of their shelter and savings.  Ambujawadi has a total population of 50,000 people and is inhabitated by workers from the informal sector including construction labours, hawkers, domestic workers and other self employed mainly from dalit community and Muslim minority.
The demolition squad had to go back without demolishing even one hutment after 10 hours of tussle.
The evictions are a hanging sword above the head of every household in the informal sector in major cities and have to face multiple evictions further increasing vulnerability and poverty. The questions are not about encroachment but about availability of shelter and human right of the poor.  One needs to ask the correct question in order to find solutions for the Poor.
The housing needs of the poor cannot be an excuse for further reclamation of Mumbai and subsequent appropriation of land by elites in the city.  What is needed is a planned land use which gives mixed land use and implementation of land reservation for the urban poor in the upcoming development plan of Mumbai.  The development plan will fail the people of Mumbai if it does not regularize existing settlements of the poor and ensure total water and sanitation in the slums of Mumbai.
GBGB, Shahar Vikas Manch and allied organisations demand a long term solution to the housing problems of the urban poor and a moratorium on evictions till an action plan is put in place.  The existing government schemes like Rajiv Awas Yojana should be implemented in Mumbai and 25% land for EWS made compulsory in all new constructions.
Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai is in process of preparing Development Plan for next 20 years. SVM demands there should not be any eviction till Development Plan gets prepared with meaningful participation of urban poor.
Shahar vikas manch,   Ambojwadi vikas Samiti, Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan

                Mohan Chavan                 Vasim Sheikh                     Salim  Siraj Ansari             Nirmala Singh    Nirmala Gupta                  Mahatam Morya

A Congress leader was forced to suck genital of other UTPs in custody – Sexual perversion of West Bengal police

source: Suresh Bhat

A Congress leader was forced to suck genital of other UTPs in custody – Sexual perversion of West Bengal police

30 April 2012

To
The Chairman
National Human Rights Commission
Faridkot House
Copernicus Marg
New Delhi-110001
Respected Sir,
I am writing to lodge complaint regarding yet another case of illegal arrest and custodial violence by the perpetrator police personnel of Salar Police Station, District- Murshidabad, West Bengal. The details of the incident are mentioned in the attached fact finding report. Victim is a local leader of Congress (Indian National Congress) party.
On 18.4.2012 in the midnight the perpetrator police personnel of Salar Police Station arrested the victims without maintaining any legal procedure. The victims had no clue as to the reason of their arrest and also no Memo of Arrest was issued at the time of arrest. At the time of arrest the victims were brutally tortured. Then the victims were also subjected to inhuman torture in police lock-up at Salar Police Station by the perpetrator police personnel and they were forced to do certain acts such as to suck each others private parts. On 19.4.2012 the victims were produced before the concerned judicial magistrate and later on the same day the victims were admitted at hospital. Medical reports of the victims exhibit the gravity of the torture committed upon the victims.
We condemn this heinous incident which hit our conscience with the fact that the custodial violence and violation of law and legal mandates are still a well cherished practice among a section of men in uniform and they have no intention to give respect to the procedural mandates and the constitutional rights available to a person against arbitrary arrest and custodial violence.
We immediately demand stern punitive action against the perpetrator police personnel of Salar Police Station. We further demand that the whole matter must immediately be probed into by one independent investigating agency appointed by the Commission. Considering the fact the perpetrators are police personnel, so the victims and the witnesses in this case must be provided with adequate protection so that they do not come under any threats, inducement and harassment. We also demand adequate compensation for the victims.
We immediately seek your urgent intervention in this matter so that the perpetrators can be booked under the law immediately.
Thanking you,
Yours truly,
Kirity Roy
Secretary, MASUM
&
National Convener, PACTI
 
Particulars of the victims: – (1) Mr. Chand Mohammad Seikh son of Late Bablu Seikh; (2) Mr. Sukur Seikh, son of late Chilu Seikh; (3) Mr. Fijoj Seikh, son of Moksud Seikh, all from village-Hamidhati Pilkhundi, Police Station-Salar, District-Murshidabad.
Particulars of the perpetrators: – (1) Mr. Subrata Majumdar being officer-in-Charge of Salar Police Station; (2) Mr. Sainik Tarafdar, Sub-Inspector of Salar Police Station; (3) Mr. Pradip Roy, the Assistant Sub-inspector of Salar Police Station.
Date & time of the incident: – On 18.4.2012 at about 5 and subsequent thereafter.
Place of incident: – In the house of Mr. Imam Seikh of Sarmastipur under Police Station-Salar, District-Murshidabad also in Salar Police Station.
 
Case Details:-
It is revealed during the fact finding that on 18.4.2012 at about 5 pm the police personnel of Salar Police Station namely Mr. Subrata Majumdar, Mr. Sainik Tarafdar, Mr. Pradip Roy along with 4/5 police constables  entered into the house of the victim Mr. Chand Mohammad Seikh. Mr. Chand Mohammad is a known leader of Congress Party of that locality. There was no female police persons with the said police personnel. The police personnel forcibly entered into the house of the victim. They searched for the victim in the house but they did not find him and out of rage they started abusing the female members of the house in filthy languages. They also threatened them (the family members of the victims) with dire consequences if the victim did not attend the police station immediately. The police personnel did not disclose any reason for searching the victim and the facts also emerged during the police raid that the said police personnel also came in search of the other victims.  
On the same day the victims took shelter in the house of Mr. Imam Seikh in Samastipur village out of police harassment. Mr. Imam Seikh is the father-in-law of the victim Mr. Sukur Seikh. However the police personnel of Salar Police Station got news of the whereabouts of the victims and in the midnight at about 00.45 hrs. Mr. Sainik Tarafdar, Sub-Inspector of Salar Police Station with huge police personnel of Salar Police Station raided the house of Mr. Imam Seikh. They forcibly entered into the house and ransacked the household articles. They captured the victims and started assaulting them brutally by wooden sticks and rifle butts. They were tied by a rope and put into a police vehicle. The police personnel neither disclosed any reason for arrest of the victims nor issued any Memo of Arrest. The police vehicle left the place with the victims and the perpetrator police personnel and in the midway the vehicle stopped. Then the victims were taken out of the vehicle and they were again brutally assaulted by the police personnel. Then they were brought at Salar Police Station and again they were assaulted in naked condition and allegedly the victims were even forced to suck each other’s private parts by the perpetrator police personnel. Reportedly some people from the village of the victims came to Salar Police Station after getting news of the police brutality upon the victims and started protesting against the police brutality. Then reportedly the Superintendent of Police, Murshidabad came to the police station and under his instruction the victims were shifted to Kandi Police Station. Then from Kandi Police Station the victims were produced at the Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate Court, Kandi on 19.4.2012 by implicating them in an old pending criminal case vide Salar Police Station Case no. 36/2012 dated 20.3.2012 under sections 325/326/307/34 of Indian Penal Code. The advocate appearing for the victims made a written complaint before the Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate Court, Kandi against the perpetrator police personnel of Salar Police Station for perpetrating torture upon the victims in custody. The victim Mr. Chand Mohammad Seikh could not stand properly and fell down while he was produced physically before the Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate. The Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate directed for proper arrangement of the medical treatment of the victims. Then on the same day the victims were bought at Kandi Sub-divisional Hospital for treatment but the attending doctor referred Mr. Chand Mohammad Seikh to Berhampore New General Hospital upon examining the seriousness of his physical condition. Mr. Chand Mohammad Seikh was in admission in the said hospital for treatment from 19.4.2012 to 4.5.2012. The victims Mr. Sukur Seikh and Mr. Fijoj Seikh were discharged from Kandi Sub-divisional Hospital on 28.4.2012. Later the victims were released on bail on 18.5.2012. The discharge certificate issued by Berhampore New General Hospital recorded that the victim Mr. Chand Mohammad Seikh was “suffering from physical assault by police”.
The family members of the victims alleged that the victims were falsely implicated in the aforesaid criminal case by the perpetrator police personnel. On 20.4.2012 Ms. Seherunnesa Bibi, wife of Mr. Chand Mohammad Seikh submitted one written complaint before the Inspector-in-Charge of Kandi Police Station against the perpetrator police personnel of Salar Police Station for perpetrating torture upon the victims. On 7.5.2012 Ms. Hamida Bibi, sister of the victim Mr. Chand Mohammad Seikh sent one written complaint to the Officer-in-Charge of Salar Police Station through the registered post with A/D narrating the incident of police torture upon the victims. On 9.5.2012 Ms. Hamida Bibi also submitted one written complaint before the Superintendent of Police, Murshidabad narrating the incident of police torture upon the victims and she also prayed for proper legal action against the perpetrator police personnel of Salar Police Station. The police and its higher administration till date failed to take any action against the perpetrator police personnel of Salar Police Station in spite of receiving complaints against the perpetrators.
The family members of the victim Mr. Chand Mohammad Seikh stated that he raised his voice against the ongoing unholy police –political nexus in the area and he was one of the signatories in one written complaint dated 16.4.2012 sent to the Law Minister, Govt. of West Bengal regarding the illegal activities of the involved police personnel of Salar Police Station. The family members of Mr. Chand Mohammad Seikh stated he became an eye-sore to the police of Salar Police Station for his protesting voice.

 Ms. Seherunnesa Bibi, wife of Mr. Chand Mohammad Seikh stated that on 19.4.2012 she went to the Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate Court to see her husband. In the court premises she saw that at about 1 pm the victims were brought at court in police vehicle of Salar Police Station. She saw that the victims were unable to walk properly. She asked Mr. Sainik Tarafdar, Sub-Inspector of Salar Police Station was present there at that time with his fellow policemen of Salar Police Station about the reason behind such physical condition of the victims. Mr. Sainik Tarafdar became furious and shouted at her saying that he assaulted her husband and he would assault her also and he immediately saying so kicked on her body and also slapped on her face. As a result she almost lost her sense. She was immediately admitted at Kandi Sub-Divisional Hospital from where she was discharged on 21.4.2012.  All the accused persons released on bail by the order of Sessions court on 18th May 2012 on condition to attend Salar police station everyday.


Kirity Roy
Secretary
Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha
(MASUM)
&
National Convenor (PACTI)

Crushing the Aravalis to Dust

The SC mining ban may have saved the Aravalis in Haryana. But it’s getting blasted to bits in Rajasthan. Revati Laul tracks the illegal business that could be worth over Rs 50,000 crore.

Plundered range The defaced Aravalis in Alwar district; Photos: Vijay Pandey

IF THERE is total devastation, the natural corollary is a total ban.” On 8 May 2009, a Supreme Court Bench comprising Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan and Justices Arijit Pasayat and SH Kapadia made this pronouncement as they banned mining in the Aravali hills in Haryana. So the mining mafia went around the other side of the hills, into Rajasthan. And continued like before, to plunder one of the world’s oldest mountain ranges that stretch from Pakistan to Delhi’s Raisina Hill. The Aravalis act as a natural barrier to the Thar desert in western Rajasthan. If they are removed, there could be a desert in place of our Parliament one day. This is the story of the beginning of that destruction.

Rajasthan is the second largest mineral-producing state in India: 37 major and 22 minor minerals come from here, including metals like copper, zinc and lead and also a large amount of marble, sandstone, soapstone and grit used in laying roads.

In 2010, 13,100 mining leases were granted and over 26 crore tonnes were mined. This generated a little over Rs 1,500 crore in revenue from both royalties and taxes. Royalties vary; for a bulk of the major minerals, it’s 10 percent of the sale price. For minor minerals, it varies from Rs 16 a tonne for masonry stone to Rs 400 a tonne for marble. The real math, of course, lies in the unaccounted-for minerals and stones being mined in quantities that are anybody’s guess. What is amply clear though is that the amount is large and all that is unaccounted for is a huge loss to the exchequer. However, the large-scale destruction of the mountains is taking place not so much from the mining of copper or zinc, but from cutting the rock face for stone.

While the Directorate of Mines and Geology (DOMG) admits that the Aravalis are being destroyed largely by illegal mining, no one has been able to quantify these claims. It became such a mess that it was referred in 2009 to a Central Empowered Committee (CEC) set up by the apex court. The CEC is a group comprising environmentalists, lawyers and two NGOs and it’s task is to monitor if the court’s orders on the environment are being violated.

When the CEC set out to map the scale of illegal mining, its first stumbling block was the almost complete absence of data. It found that the state government did not even know which part of the Aravalis fell within its boundaries. There were no maps. “It is not understood how the state government has been regulating mining activities in the Aravali hills in the absence of such information,” remarked the CEC.

The CEC had to apply for funds to have the mountains mapped. DOMG Director Ajitabh Sharma claims it will still take 7-8 months for the images to be ready.

However, poring through some of the official data, it has been possible for TEHELKA to arrive at some workable estimates of the size and shape of the mining problem.

Ayub

‘We have collectively decided not to let the mining stop. We know the hills will disappear, our grazing land is becoming nonexistent, but we don’t care. We want money now. We hurt and kill cops if need be. Anyone who gets in our way’
Ayub
Truck owner

According to official records, 5,332 hectares were leased out for stone mining in 2010. But mining math is not simple. Campaigners, activists and locals provide the closest estimate. For instance, how many trucks of masonry stone are taken out of a 1 hectare mine? 80-100 trucks a day, says Kailash Meena, 43, who is leading an anti-mining campaign in Neem ka Thana, Alwar. If we are to accept 80 trucks per hectare as a starting point and calculate how many tonnes of stone would be carved out of the mountains in a year, it would come to at least 140 crore tonnes of stone.

However, official estimates for 2010 suggest that only 6 crore tonnes were extracted. In money terms, the difference is massive: 134 crore tonnes in excess, sold at Rs 400 per tonne means at least Rs 53,600 crore worth of stone are unaccounted for.

The math is so starkly different in the official and unofficial estimates that we decided to do the same problem in reverse. If we go by the official data, it means that for each hectare mined, only 30 tonnes or three trucks’ worth were pulled out each day. But many experts beg to differ.

Most mine owners have some official leases. What makes a mining operation illegal is not the absence of a sanction or licence but the violation on the ground of its terms and conditions. Many dig much deeper and farther than they are allowed. Some who refused to give us their names were brazen enough to openly acknowledge this phenomenon. They also mine many years’ quantity in a matter of months.

Because many of the mines are quasi-legal, the government and the CEC have been unable to join the dots to the big fish — Rajasthan’s version of the Bellary brothers. However, they do exist, working via proxy companies and through an intricate web of complicit, corrupt actors. Senior IAS officers and a top government official told TEHELKA the people involved in this scam range from district-level officials to the police, to MLAs and even ministers, many of whom are mine owners by proxy.

DOMG director Sharma says 48 zones, especially in Alwar and Sikar districts that border Haryana, are where illegal mining is rampant. Nearly 400 Home Guards have been positioned here, but only 50 are armed. In addition, 1,000 men from the Rajasthan Armed Constabulary are about to be sent in to stop illegal stone crushers. GPS devices and CCTVs have been ordered. And Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has made statements declaring a zero-tolerance policy for illegal mining.

Government officials admit privately that the problem is so entrenched because there is not enough political will to stop it. A few illegal units may be routinely caught and made example of but that’s just about it. In the past three years, DOMG raids resulted in 1,200 cases being registered against defaulters. Significantly, the top three defaulters were all from Alwar (Dinesh Saini, who was fined Rs 74 lakh, Meema Sharma, Rs 44 lakh and Kishan Chand Saini, Rs 29 lakh). Who are these mine owners? We are told that the same owner could get an environmental clearance in one year and then violate the law the following year. Therefore, in one way or another, the big fish have continued to remain hidden and unimpeded.

On a micro scale, some data has become available. The CEC zeroed in on Gwalda, a block in Tijara tehsil, Alwar, where on any given day, more trucks carrying stone are visible than people. In this block alone, mining leases were sanctioned for 5 hectares in 2010, but as much as 83 hectares were being mined. In the same tehsil, Udhanwas is ostensibly a protected forest area, where no mining leases were sanctioned. But the CEC has found that not only is illegal mining widespread here but has increased with each passing year (12.94 hectares in 2005 to 51.72 hectares in 2010).

Rock-ing Business

13,100
Mining leases granted for major and minor minerals in 2010

5,332
Hectares leased out for stone mining the same year

Rs 1,500 cr
Revenue generated from both royalties and taxes

6
(crore tonnes) of stones mined in 2010, according to official records

140
(crore tonnes) of stones mined, according to unofficial figures

1,200
Cases registered against defaulters in the past three years

Rs 32,000
Is the maximum earned per trip per truck, depending on the tonnage

THE NUMBERS don’t tell the story of the people involved in illegal mining and those who are at its receiving end. For that, TEHELKA travelled through Alwar and Sikar, mapping the human side of the story. In Alwar, we were warned in particular about Udhanwas. Just three months ago, the CEC team decided to go there, but were forced to turn back. The road was blocked with boulders and even the police and district administration were unable to get in.

“Don’t go into Udhanwas. If the DM and SP couldn’t get in, what chance do you stand?” the villagers warned. After crossing many denuded hills, blazing red in the April heat, we decided to leave our photographer behind, just in case, and pose as members of an NGO. A teacher at the primary school, the only one in the village, took us to Udhanwas, narrating to us en route how everyone here is armed. They have all invested in the mining business.

We reached his school and asked to meet whoever was available. Three men, three women and six kids turned up. But the one person who explained the villagers’ point of view was Ayub, 45, who has also invested in the mining business. This is a village of just 45 households or 300 people. It is also widely acknowledged to be in one of the most under-developed parts of India. Girls here barely study beyond Class V.

Until mining shifted here, agriculture was their primary source of income and was yielding less and less over time. Now, almost everyone in the village has put their money on mining. They have bought tractors and trucks on loans for which they pay Rs 30,000 a month in EMIs. Their main profit then comes from powering the arteries and veins of the mining mafia.

“We have collectively decided not to let the mining stop,” says Ayub. “We know the hills and grazing land will disappear, but we don’t care. We want money now.” His neighbours smile and nod in agreement.

When TEHELKA brought up the story of Narendra Kumar, the cop in Madhya Pradesh who was tracking the mining mafia until they rolled a tractor over his face, killing him, Ayub and the others sat back and laughed. “We do that kind of thing all the time. We hurt and kill cops if need be. Anyone who gets in our way.”

Later, when we narrated this account to local SP Mahesh Kumar Goyal, he dismissed these claims as complete rubbish. But a CEC member said the team had recorded instances of cops being injured and threatened on the Haryana side.

Avtar Singh Bhadana, who used to be one of the largest miners in the region, says he has heard of similar stories. He claims to have given up his mining business ever since he joined politics. He’s the Congress MP from Faridabad now. However, there are many in Rajasthan who don’t believe these claims, especially since there is a road, cut through the Aravalis from Rajasthan to Haryana, built by Bhadana using MPLADS funds. He says this was a much-needed connecting road and does not violate any rules. Activists say the road is laden with trucks from illegal mines, so who was it really built for? The name ‘Bhadana’ features on the backs of many trucks ferrying stone, including a few that have no number plates. Are they the same Bhadana? “No,” is the MP’s answer. There are others with the same name, he says.

ONCE YOU exit Udhanwas, the other side of the story becomes evident. At a nearby village called Deota that was opposed to the destruction of the mountains, people say stray boulders from crushers too close to their village regularly smash their homes. Village elder Ram Swarup, 70, looks into the sand-filled sky and asks: “The hills belong to all. So why is only one person earning from it? And if mining is the only way out of poverty, then how do people who don’t live in the hills survive?” His village has now taken its battle to court.

The scale of operations is so large in Alwar and Sikar because protesting villagers like those in Deota are in a minority. For instance, in Gwalda, similar sentiments were echoed. The same willingness to sell the mountains for money. “Who cares what happens in 10 years’ time?” asks 81-year-old former sarpanch Kallu Haji, grinning. “We need money for the present.”

The hills of Alwar are home to many stone crushing units. The stone is crushed by day. But the boulder itself is broken free from the mountainside by night. Miners in the vicinity of protesting villagers such as Kishangar Bas say the police instruct them not to operate their illegal mines in the day. But with some greasing of the palm, the mining process is undertaken through the night.

Suraj, 13 (name changed) lives under a thin thatch with 10 others, mostly minors from Bihar. He lives and works in the mines. His yellow eyes tell their own story of a life lived in fear. If indeed camping with 10 people in a mine, leaving your home in Bihar at the age of 13 to break the mountainside in the dark can be called a life. “At home, even if things were bad, at least I came back to my mother and she’d make me her rotis,” he says. “I miss my mother the most.”

Alwar Collector Ashutosh Pednekar admits the scale of illegal mining is huge. He believes that the armed constabulary, GPS and CCTVs could curb it. And a Rs 2.5 crore skill deployment programme has been started to give alternative jobs to youth in the factories coming up in Mewat. An ITI is being set up for technical training.

Night shift Illegal mining going on at Neemli village in Alwar district

Given the scale of mining and the largescale support of local villagers, Pednekar’s task is a tough one. Dealing with the mining mafia, armed and fearless on one hand, and enticing people with alternative jobs on the other. Jobs that even he is aware will not pay even one-fifth of what they now earn through illegal mining.

DOMG director Sharma echoes these sentiments but denies that there is political complicity at the top. A Congress leader disagrees. It’s precisely because so many people are benefiting from this Rs 50,000 crore illegal operation that the dots don’t join back to them, says the politician, who holds a top position in the government.

Rajasthan Lokayukta GL Gupta is probing several claims of illegal mining, including one against former minister Bharosi Lal Jatav, who has been accused of misusing his position to get mining leases for his sons on forestland. Gupta says his findings are confidential. Only if a member of the state Assembly chooses to make these findings public, can they become public knowledge. Which has not happened yet.

But some evidence of political complicity is there to see. In Sikar district, pockets of resistance against the mining mafia have been building up over the past two years, especially in Neem ka Thana. As a result, Kailash Meena, the man spearheading the resistance, spent many weeks in jail last year. And protests by villagers were brutally crushed last April.

Dabla village resident Shanti, 70, describes how she was dragged to the police station in Patan block and then beaten up with lathis till she could not move or even relieve herself properly for the next month. The villagers were protesting the taking over of common grazing land for carving out a road to service five stone crushing units in the area. Since then, the protests have only gotten bolder.

Civil rights group People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) galvanised its forces behind the growing protests in Neem ka Thana and submitted a dossier of illegal mining, police brutality and stories of mine workers’ injuries and deaths to Chief Minister Gehlot’s office last October. Like the story of Shaudan Gujjar, whose son Chintar, 25, was standing on the terrace of their home when a boulder from a nearby stone crusher landed on his head, killing him instantly. The mine, Baba’s Stone Crushers, paid Gujjar Rs 11 lakh as compensation and also to keep quiet.

Ram Swarup

‘The hills belong to everyone. So why is only one person earning from it? And if mining is the only way out of poverty, then how do people who don’t live in the hills survive?’
Ram Swarup
Villager

Among the documents on illegal mining that the PUCL produced before the Rajasthan government was a reply filed by the Neem ka Thana tehsil to an RTI request (No. 1711, dated 25 May 2010). This revealed that 12 cement washing plants that consume large quantities of water were in operation in a portion of Neem ka Thana that has been declared to be in the severely parched zone of Rajasthan. PUCL also claims the cement washing plants and large-scale sand mining in the area has destroyed two rivers: Dabla and Kasavati.

MEENA’S BATTLE with the mining mafia began in 2005, when dust from the stone-crushing units nearby ended up killing his goats, ruining his career as a pastoralist. Unlike Udhanwas, where profits from agriculture were dwindling and the spin-offs from illegal mining were much more lucrative, Neem ka Thana was a village of moderately successful pastoralists. Now, Meena has sold most of his livestock and plunged into a battle with the mining mafia. “Why doesn’t the state just change the law? Tell us that the cities are everything. That for the sake of building a flyover so that one burra sahib’s car can move one minute faster, three villages will be destroyed?” he asks.

He then shows six FIRs detailing how cops had caught trucks and a tent full of explosives meant to blast rock, being stored and transported without any official documents. In each case, the district magistrate let off the drivers with fines of Rs 500-Rs 1,000. No mention was made of attempts to track the owners of these explosives.

This has also earned Meena the ire of local MLA Ramesh Khandelwal, who likened him and his “band of protesters” to the Taliban. “They are playing a disruptive role,” he says. “Look at the development and jobs mining has brought with it. As the representative of the people, it is my duty to create jobs for the unemployed.”

As the destruction of the Aravalis lands jobs to some and death for a few others, it raises one disturbing, ironical question. Was the mining ban in Haryana the right way to protect the Aravalis? The CEC is now making the case that it is not.

In its report to the Supreme Court in January, the CEC said it is the gap in demand and supply resulting from the ban in Haryana that has fuelled illegal mining in Rajasthan. The CEC suggests that mining leases should be granted in proportion to the prevailing demand for raw materials. The answer to violation of law is better regulation of mines, not their absence.

While this is being debated in courtrooms in New Delhi, the mountains that rose out of the earth millions of years ago are being ripped out and blasted illegally. And most of it is being done in connivance with the lawmakers.

Revati Laul is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka. 
revati@tehelka.com