MP's `mining millionaires' struggle for a meal

KARAR KHERA (SHIVPURI), OCTOBER 15: Achche Lal Adivasi, a tribal living in the small village 110 kms from Shivpuri, is a millionaire -- at least on paper. Owner of a five-hectare sandstone mine, he paid Rs 40 lakh as royalty to the Shivpuri collectorate for the year 1998-99. The year before that, he paid Rs 1.16 crore.

But his family still doesn't get two square meals a day. His old mother Harku wears a tattered sari and blouse. ``There is no money, what to do,'' she says, through her toothless gums. It is late afternoon but no food has been cooked. A few utensils lie empty and scattered. The stove has not been lit. Where is her son, lease holder of a huge profitable mine?

``Achche Lal has gone somewhere to arrange for some money,'' his mother says, adjusting the saree pallu on her head. She knows that he has a mine in his name but doesn't get any money from it. She names a senior political leader and says that he runs the mine for her son. And obviously pockets the profits too.

This has emerged as the most common modus operandi in the mining business here. The state government gives preference to scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and the backward castes while leasing out area for mining. The rich and the powerful manipulate the system to ensure that the SCs, STs from their village or constituency get the lease. Once the lease is granted, they take a power of attorney from the lease-holder and run the mine on his behalf.

Sandstone mining is an extremely profitable business since there is great demand for the Shivpuri stone -- white, shaded gray-pink and red -- in Saudi Arabia and also in other coastal countries since it is not damaged by salt water.

Several cases of tribals being cheated out of their mines came to light when The Indian Express tried to trace some of the original lease-holders. Babulal Vanshkar of Viroli village, for instance, paid Rs 35 lakh as royalty for the year 1998-99, but doesn't have enough money to run his house. He plays in a band at Shivpuri to make two ends meet. ``Whenever there is a function or a festival in Shivpuri, Babulal comes and plays in the band,'' says Ramesh `Bandwaala'. Babulal Vanshkar himself could not be reached as his village had been cut off after the monsoons. The unpaved road was damaged and had become unmotorable.

Akhilesh Srivastava, Additional Collector of Shivpuri and also in charge of mining, says that he had also heard of tribals losing out their leases to the strong and the powerful. ``But we have no irrefutable evidence. The tribals themselves are not only uneducated but also scared. There is no awakening or awareness among them. If they get two square meals a day, it is enough for them. They have to come forward and complain to us. We will definitely take action,'' he assures.

The additional collector said there was another reason for the tribals to accept the situation without complaining. ``They are scared that if they go to the authorities, their lease might be cancelled and they will not even get food to eat. Mining activity is the main source of livelihood in the region. They are happy to be making whatever money they can,'' he adds, by way of explanation.

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