Afroz Alam Sahil for BeyondHeadlines
The media, both in Bihar and Delhi most often assert and want us to believe that Bihar is changing and in fact transforming to a developed state. No wonder, this media portrayal has attracted positive attention of global investors and researchers. But very few have looked at the impact of corruption and organized crime on Bihar’s environment, local community and overall human development. At a time when illegal mining in Odisha, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Goa, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand etc has been part of a national political and policy debate on mining, the sand mining mafia in Bihar seems to have missed the critical eye of our national media. BH last month had a story of a recent seminar on the Sand Mining Mafia in Bihar at the Center for the Advanced Study of India (CASI) of the University of Pennsylvania.
This CASI seminar by Dr. Jeff Witsoe focused on the emerging development discourse in Bihar and how to understand the role and impact of mining mafia in contemporary Bihar. Dr. Witsoe, who is an anthropologist at the Union College in New York and a visiting scholar at the University of Pennsylvania had visited and lived in Bihar to conduct his ethnographic research on caste empowerment and democratic politics in Bihar, recently with a more focus on brokers and mafias. The local media in Bihar have mentioned that Dr. Witsoe has established in his research that Bihar is on development track now and Sand Mafia are almost extinct in the state. However, our initial reading of Witsoe’s writings does not reflect this assertion and neither his research has established the extinction of the sand mafia. Nonetheless, we would like to present the picture that was portrayed and revealed to one of the authors of this article during BH’s ongoing investigative field work in Bihar.
The Story of the Sand Mining
If you travel across Bihar particularly Bhagalpur, Banka, Munger, Jamui, Lakhisarai, Shaikhpura, Patna, Bhojpur, Saran, Rohtas, Bhabhua, Aurangabad, Buxar, Gaya, Nalanda, Jahanabad, Navada, Siwan, Gopalganj, Vaishali, Muzaffarpur, Bettiah, Motihari, Madhubani, Kishanganj, Saharsa, Supaul and Madhepura you will find that illegal mining is still going on, perhaps in a more organised fashion. The only change you will notice is that now the miners are white collared politicians who have hired goons for themselves. Earlier the mining used to be done in shadow of guns, now bribe has replaced guns.
The strange coincidence with the University of Pennsylvania seminar is that on 09 February 2012, the day when Dr. Witose was to present his research update, the villagers of Sitti Panchayat in Gaunaha Block of West Champaran District submitted a complaint to the District Magistrate (DM) about illegal mining mafia. The villagers also presented a video CD to the DM showing destroyed farmlands and loss to the nearby river.
The bitter truth is that mining mafia are more active than anytime in the past. The ‘Sone’ River is completely ruined. The Bihar govt. has banned rock mining but in Sasaram alone more than 400 mines are operating illegally. Only 8 mines here have valid lease. The Kaimur Rock lands are worst affected. Their greenery is completely lost. Likewise more than a thousand rock mines are operating in Bihar illegally.
Pawan Kumar Pathak, a journalist in West Champaran says that sand mining Mafia is more organised now. The local residents are and environment is at greater loss than ever before while the mafia and the state government are making good money out of this.
The government on one side is giving land to mining mafia at greater price but this is causing erosion leading to shifting of many villages. The changed course of rivers is washing out many villages forcing government to rehabilitate displaced villagers. The gains in revenue turn out to be greater loss to environment and people. Also in reality the government has to spend more on rehabilitation than it earns from the mining leases. In the process the local political leaders and mining mafia are making great profits. The mining and subsequent construction work for rehabilitation gives scam opportunities to leaders.
The locals live in fear. A resident says that no officer dares to question the mining mafia, they have such terror that if anybody asks anything they answer with physical intimidation without any fear. The villagers were so afraid of the mafia that no one dared to speak openly about them.
The picture media or the government has portrayed about sand mining in Bihar is completely different from what the locals say. There is no doubt that Nitish Kumar government has regularized mining by a New Sand Mining Policy and has even earned good revenue for the state. But that revenue is nowhere in comparison to the losses suffered by the local community and more importantly by the local environment.
(This article is part of Mr. Sahil’s ongoing fieldwork in Bihar during Feb-March 2012.)