While Uttarakhand counts the cost of the floods and landslides caused by rains, scientists claim that it was a man-made catastrophe caused by mining and encroachments in the flood zone of the rivers. The foundation for a similar disaster is being laid in Saharanpur district of Uttar Pradesh, where illegal mines and stone-crushing units are operating with impunity.
The raw materials are sourced through illegal mining in Saharanpur, located 570 km from Lucknow. Despite opposition from locals, illegal mining thrives. In 2011, social worker Ashish Saini wrote to the Supreme Court and the state and the Central governments regarding illegal mining. Taking cognisance of the letter, the apex court on 25 December 2011 ordered an inquiry into the matter.
The SC-appointed Central Empowered Committee (CEC) probed the case and submitted its report on 4 January 2012. The report said that several mining leases were illegally allotted and leaseholders were carrying out illegal mining under the district administration’s protection. The probe also found that 70 out of 300 stone-crushers were illegally operating near the Yamuna while district officials have shown several of them as having been sealed or demolished. On the basis of this report, the SC ordered the state government to stop the illegal operations.
“After the SC order, the district magistrate found that only 90 crushers had a valid licence,” says Saharanpur Stone Crushers’ Welfare Association Secretary Mahendra Singh. “The district administration ordered the rest of the crushers to be demolished. Many of the illegal stonecrushers were partially demolished.”
But the business was back to ‘normal’ in a matter of days. By the end of 2012, 16 mining leases were allotted again by the district administration. Three of the leases were for a restricted period (17 April 2013 to 21 January 2014), while the rest were allotted for three years. In this process of renewal, rules were flouted.
According to the rules, the auction method must be adopted for renewal and allocation of mining leases. Besides this, the rules also call for e-tendering and e-auction. But these leases were allotted without any auction. On top of that, mining leases were allotted to the very companies that had been found guilty of illegal mining in the SC-ordered probe.
The reason for the district administration’s largesse could be gauged by checking the leaseholders’ list. Almost all the leases are owned by the brother, son and associates of Mohammad Iqbal, a BSP MLC. Eight of the 16 mining leases have been allotted to Iqbal’s brother Mohammad Ali; one has been allotted to Iqbal’s son Mohammad Wajid Ali and four leases are in the name of the Jain brothers, who are partners of Mohammad Ali.
“All the leases are with Iqbal’s people. He has a monopoly on all the mining activities in the district,” says a local resident on the condition of anonymity. “They carry out illegal mining on private as well as government land, and are so influential that they don’t allow allotment of leases to anybody else. They have caused losses of thousands of crores of rupees to the state. Obviously, the district administration gets a big share.”
The administration provides MM-11 forms to the leaseholders for selling the mined materials. Colloquially, these forms are referred to as rawana (transit permits). According to rules, the leaseholder has to issue a transit permit before sending any mineral outside his lease. This contains the type and quantity of the material. In this manner, the quantity of the material extracted from a lease gets recorded. There is a provision to stop the mining once the quantity of the extracted material reaches the prescribed limit. But these rules are seldom followed in reality.
The mining mafia has also set up nine checkposts at Nuniyari, Gandevad, Raipur, Badshahi Bagh, Sunderpur, Tajewala, Jasmaur, Nanauli and Landa Pul in Saharanpur. According to TEHELKA’s investigation, any illegally mined material from the district can only be taken out through one of these posts. Trucks laden with illegally mined material come to these posts and get the transit permit after paying a bribe. In this manner, the illegally mined minerals become legal and the mafia makes a big profit. When TEHELKA asked Havaldar Singh Yadav, the local mining officer, about these illegal posts, he said, “I have been here for less than a month, I have no knowledge of this.”
Several irregularities are also seen in the mined material that comes out of the allotted leases. A member of the Saini Yuva Chetna Manch, a social organisation, says, “Truckloads of material are taken out of these leases but the quantity shown on the MM-11 form is less than what can be carried on a bullock cart. The officials accept these forgeries and issue them a new transit permit without raising any objection. The administration issues a challan to one or two trucks every month just to fulfil their responsibility.”
Mahendra Singh admits that a lesser quantity is shown in the transit permit. “The minerals that the leaseholders are allowed to sell in their three years of lease, they sell in just 15 days,” he says.
By showing the mined minerals as less than the actual amount on the transit permit, the leaseholder not only escapes paying a huge amount of royalty to the government, even the prescribed limit of minerals to be extracted is not breached on paper. Because of this, they keep getting transit permits and the illegally mined material becomes legal.
Even the SC-ordered probe revealed that the district administration had illegally issued extra transit permits to the mining mafias. It said, “In just three months, 60,176 extra transit permits were issued in Saharanpur district. These were used to sell 2,40,704 cubic metres of illegally mined materials. The actual quantity of the illegally mined material sold would be more, since these transit permits are issued for tractor trolleys, while mostly large trucks are used.”
The mining business flourishes in Saharanpur because the district shares borders with three states. Besides UP, the mined material is sent to Uttarakhand, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. The Yamuna, which is being extensively mined, forms the border between Saharanpur and Haryana. According to experts, the recent restriction on mining in Haryana has spiked the demand of mined materials. In such a scenario, mining is done illegally in the Yamuna in Haryana and to make the mined material legal, they get the transit permit from the mafia across the border.
Illegal stone-crushers play a complementary role to the illegal mining. After the SC order, several stone-crushing units were sealed, but most of them never stopped their operations. Local newspapers have been regularly carrying stories on the sealed crushers that are still operational. A more serious issue is the setting up of several stone-crushing units adjacent to the Yamuna. According to rules, no stone-crusher can operate within 500 metres of a riverbed. But dozens of stonecrushers are openly flouting these rules.
There are seven stone-crushers within 2 km of the Hathnikund barrage. “They have made it difficult for those trying to honestly run their crusher,” says Mahendra Singh. “We have to bring the raw material from the river, which is quite expensive. But the stone-crushers near the river are able to get raw materials easily.”
Adds Saini, “This barrage will soon be on the brink of collapse due to illegal mining. Thousands of lives will be at stake. One of these crushers belongs to former UP minister Aslam Khan, and another belongs to Dilbagh Singh, MLA from Yamunanagar in Haryana. What can one do when such influential people are involved in this illegal business?”
Translated from Hindi by Saif Ullah Khan