Govt sharpens its claws as mining mafias mint money from lions' den
nfluential mining mafias are minting money in Gujarat, thanks to their unholy nexus with policemen and bureaucrats.
Precious limestone, bauxite, lignite and other useful minerals are being surreptitiously excavated day in and day out from the protected five-kilometre stretch around the leafy Gir wildlife sanctuary, the last abode of the Asiatic lions, for the past 30 years with no one to question the illegal activity.
Environmentalist Amit Jethwa who did object to the unauthorised mining through a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Gujarat High Court in Ahmedabad on July 13 was shot dead from point-blank range a week later outside the very hall of justice. Though the 32-year-old whistle-blower is no more, his brother is bent on continuing the legal battle to make sure that the thieves of the rich natural resources get their just deserts before the 1,450-square-km jungle with rich flora and fauna goes to rack and ruin.
Jethwa's father has in another petition prayed for an independent inquiry into his son's murder and pointed an accusing finger at the parliamentarian of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Dinu Solanki, from Junagadh. He said that the powerful, dreaded politician alone owns 55 of the 200-odd shady mines in his constituency that cover the woodlands.
Surprisingly, while four people, including Solanki's nephew, have been hauled up in the case progressing at a snail's pace, the police are yet to grill the lawmaker who is a close relative of Vaju Vala, the seniormost member of the Narendra Modi ministry.
The mining activities in the deserted region like blasting of explosives, shifting of heavy machinery and the constant noise of the machines drive the lions out of the Gir sanctuary from time to time with the result that 74 of the 411 big cats have so far made their homes outside the protected jungle and often attack lonely passerby or even fall into unused wells.
However, following a high court order in response to Jethwa's PIL, the BJP regime had earlier this week assured the bench that a stringent policy to put an end to unlawful mining is being formulated and will be ready before the next hearing on November 15.
The region around the Gir national park, indeed, is a no-man's land with only a few ramshackle dwellings of poverty-stricken labourers who actually two-time as informers for the treacherous owners of the unlicensed mines. But the area is so rich in minerals that even reputed cement companies have set up their units in the nearby coastal strip for easy transportation of raw materials.
According to the geology and mines-minerals department, the land in and around Gir is a bottomless storehouse of minerals, possessing 11,500 million tonnes of A-grade, rare limestone, 1,072 million tonnes of lignite, 105 million tonnes of Bauxite and bentonite and 720 million tonnes of dolomite, with granite, silicon, china clay and fire-clay available in abundance.
The miners do not bother to pay royalty -- say, Rs240 a tonne for limestone -- to the government and, when caught once in a blue moon, willingly shell out the 10-fold fine, a negligible amount compared to the huge profits they make through sale of stolen minerals.
The government itself has revealed in the assembly that it has collected fines totalling Rs50 million from unscrupulous miners but their total dues on account of non-payment of mining royalty are Rs100 million.
Like countless nature lovers, local Congress legislator Dhirsinh Barad had time and again complained to the mines department and even Chief Minister Narendra Modi and also raised the issue of illegal mining in the monsoon session of the assembly but in vain.
As rights lawyer Vijay Nagesh says, these violators of the mines and minerals Act get away with murder by just paying the fine while they could be jailed for up to three years for theft of natural wealth.
Luckily, the Central government has decided to intensify its drive against illegal mining by soon making registration of miners and traders mandatory for proper accounting of all minerals-related transactions.
A new bill, Mines and Minerals Regulations and Development, is also being finalised with stricter provisions to check illegal mining and is likely to be introduced soon in the next Parliament session.
At present, there are not enough legal provisions for Central intervention in illegal mining in states. The magnitude of the problem is so great that as many as 42,000 cases of violation were detected in 11 mineral-bearing states last year.
Says Nagesh: "Mines are properties of the Indian government and the state governments should protect them. Illegal activities cannot flourish without connivance between the corrupt police and selfish miners."
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Copyright (c) 2010, Khaleej Times, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
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