Gehlot Treads a Minefield

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Ashok Gehlot Chief Minister of Rajasthan.
Ashok Gehlot Chief Minister of Rajasthan. Photo: Vinita Saini

ASHOK GEHLOT is facing his biggest crisis yet. With less than a year of his term left, the Rajasthan chief minister has been accused of misusing his position in allocating sandstone mines in Jodhpur to his close relatives in violation of all rules and regulations.

Gehlot has vehemently denied any wrongdoing and claims that the decision to allocate the mines was taken by the Cabinet and not him. But the manner in which the orders of the Supreme Court and the Rajasthan High Court were violated and the state government’s haste in providing direct benefits to Gehlot’s relatives by overturning its own mining laws has put the chief minister’s role under suspicion.

The foundation of this alleged scam lies at the Mandore stone park, located 9 km from Jodhpur, which was inaugurated by Gehlot in September 2008. This area is rich in sandstone, which was used to build the Jodhpur fort. In the past few years, there has been an exponential rise in the demand for these stones in the construction and stone-carving industries. Therefore, with an aim to promote the stone business, the Gehlot regime decided to start the Mandore stone park and gave permission to set up 87 stone factories there.

On surface, the Mandore stone park looks like a good idea, but the project has been dogged by several irregularities. “Half of the 50 people who have been given permission to set up the factories in the stone park are either from Gehlot’s family or his relatives,” claims Bhavani Singh Devda, a senior journalist tracking the case.

The controversy erupted last November after the Gehlot government decided to allocate sandstone mines at Bada Kotecha (located 40 km away from Mandore) to 37 people who own factories at Mandore stone park. Incidentally, just before taking the decision, Gehlot had taken away the right to allocate mines from Mines Minister Rajendra Pareek on the orders of Congress President Sonia Gandhi. In the wake of corruption charges in mine allocations mushrooming across the country, the Congress central leadership did not want something similar to happen in Rajasthan.

Ironically, that is what exactly happened. The official documents of mine allocation are filled with names of the chief minister’s relatives. These include Manjula Gehlot, wife of Gehlot’s elder brother Agrasen; Shalini Gehlot (Anupam Stone), wife of Gehlot’s elder brother’s son; Vena Kachawaha (JM Sandstone), wife of Gehlot’s nephew; and 16 other relatives along with three close acquaintances.

Looking at the sequence of events, the state Mining Department’s decisions seem clearly biased. Since 2007, the department has received more than 1,150 applications for mining leases, but it never paid any heed to them. However, it showed special interest to the 87 applications it received since 2009 for the mines in Bada Kotecha. It was from among these that the state government took decisions favouring 37 people with factories at Mandore stone park. The question remains as to why the government favoured these people while ignoring the new mining policy of 2011.

According to the new mining policy, the allocations were supposed to be on a ‘first-come, first-served’ basis. But in this case, ignoring the applicants who had applied for leases five years ago, priority was given to those who had applied just three years ago. In the new mining policy, in any area, half the leases are to be reserved for Dalits and tribals and the other half is to be auctioned, but those rules were ignored.

Another rule in the new policy says the mining lease should not be given for an area less than five hectares. But in 2009, most of the applicants from Mandore stone park had applied for leases for one hectare. Therefore, Gehlot called a Cabinet meeting on 23 November 2012 and added a condition that the Bada Kotecha mines would be allocated for an area of one hectare instead of five. He also added a condition that these mines should only be allocated to factories from Mandore.

“This decision was taken because of the crisis being faced by the factory owners of Mandore stone park,” says Mines Minister Pareek. But those engaged in this business question his motives. “Those stone factory owners who have been allocated mines worth 50 lakh by the Gehlot government in Bada Kotecha already had 5-40 mines,” says Barat Singh, who owns Iron Sand Stone in Jodhpur.

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