A saga of violence and corruption spawned by illegal sand mining – The New Indian Express

By PTI

RAMPURHAT: The trucks groaned under the weight of the sand that the excavators had loaded onto them, as the vehicles made the difficult climb from the banks of the Brahmani River to an iron road.

Truckers will pay a ‘hafta’ (bribe) to local leaders and the administration, the amount of which is based on the weight these heavy goods vehicles carry before speeding off to construction sites in Bengal and in neighboring states.

Welcome to the world of illegal sand mining of Birbhum, which has spawned rivalry, murder, a culture of adversaries stockpiling illegally manufactured weapons and bombs, and of course, corruption.

The latest victim was local TMC strongman Bhadu Sheikh, who was reportedly killed for his unwillingness to share the spoils that diggers were bringing up from the river beds. Eight people, including women and children, were burned to death in an alleged revenge attack.

“Illegal sand mining has flourished under the patronage of powerful people for a long time. For the local mafia and the powers that be, it’s a team game,” said Krishnapada Pal, a resident who lives near the bridge. Baidhara on the Brahmani River. , about 15 km from the town of Rampurhat.

Some 80 illegal sand mines are scattered along the Mayurakshi, Ajay and Brahmani rivers in the district, from where local toughs operate with the support of influential strongmen.

Along with illegal sand mining, the other illicit industry in Birbhum, famous for the Visva-Bharati set up by Nobel laureate Rabindra Nath Tagore, is stone mining.

The region’s red stony soil that produced artists like Ram Kinkar Baij, whose statues adorn the gates of Delhi’s Reserve Bank of India, has also spawned a vicious mafia, which runs the twin illegal industries with a fist. ruthless iron.

According to Baneswar Ghosh, a retired public school teacher and resident of Kenduli, about 48 km from Rampurhat, the pattern of illegal sand mining has changed from a small-scale “business” to a big business. larger and more organized over the years, as a real estate boom in the state and elsewhere has resulted in increased demand for sand.

“The smugglers’ raj started small during the reign of Congress in the 1970s and exploded during the tenure of the Left Front and now the TMC regime. The islets have been systematically unearthed. They have now exhausted the sand in the islets and switched to mining along the banks of the rivers (bali ghats),” Ghosh said.

A long line of trucks, loaded with sand or stone, parked on National Highway 14 en route to Brahmani, where drivers could be seen paying money to a group of people. “It’s nothing but a ‘tax’ that these transporters pay. We give them receipts for that. The charges vary depending on the size of the truck,” Angur Alam, head of the ” unofficial” checkpoint. .

Every day more than 700 trucks “overloaded” with sand or stones are “permitted” to cross the area, he said, adding that each must pay 2,200 rupees.

The sand is “smuggled” from these areas to North 24 Parganas, Durgapur and Asansol in Paschim Bardhaman district, and Behrampur in Murshidabad district as well as to neighboring Jharkhand and sometimes to Bihar, Alam said.

Under the West Bengal Minor Minerals Rules 2002, “no mining operation shall be carried out within 5 km” of a river. “Forget such rules. These are for legal miners here, we dreaded criminals backed by political heavyweights,” BJP leader Subhasish Chowdhury said.

He alleged that most of those arrested, including Anasur Hossain and Newton Sheikh, suspected of being involved in either Bhadu Sheikh’s murder or the alleged revenge attack, were engaged in illegal sand mining.

Chowdhury said that this illegal practice and extortion racket has contributed to the rise of people, whose names now feature in the Birbhum tragedy.

When contacted, a senior official from the West Bengal Mineral Development and Trading Corporation Ltd (WBMDCL) told PTI that miners receive legal permits to extract sand from sites identified on a “first come, first first served”.

Local MP Ashish Bandyopadhyay, however, dismissed allegations of rampant smuggling and blamed the former Left Front government for such illegal practices in the area.

He said that soon after the Trinamool Congress came to power, the administration controlled and eradicated the illicit mining of sand and stone as well as its smuggling.

“Our administration has terminated all such illegal smuggling, which was unrestricted during the left-wing regime. All such allegations are false from opponents to slander the state,” Bandyopadhyay said.

Local police believe, however, that countering this culture will require a massive effort.

Incidentally, last year, the state police had set up a joint action team, with personnel from Purba and Paschim Bardhaman, Bankura, Birbhum, Purulia as well as Hooghly districts to control and eradicate the threat.

“We should have specialized teams to deal with these criminals. And, we need to be supported by the administration when a crackdown happens,” a police officer said.

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