University of Pennsylvania Lecture on Sand Mafia in Bihar

The University of Pennsylvania is a leading research intensive Ivy League University located in Philadelphia in the northeastern part of the United States.

Kamala Kanta Dash and Afroz Alam Sahil

Today the Center for the Advanced Study of India (CASI) at the prestigious University of Pennsylvania will host a lecture on Sand Mafia in Bihar by anthropologist Dr.  Jeff Witsoe from 12.00 noon to 1.30pm, the local time. Dr. Witose is an Assistant Professor at the department of Anthropology at the Union College in New York.  At present a Visiting Scholar at CASI, Dr. Jeff Witsoe is a PhD from the University of Cambridge.

The lecture “The Baloo Mafia: An Ethnographic Exploration of the Political Economy of Sand Mining in Bihar” by Dr. Witsoe, as the official CASI release mentions, will focus on the changing political and policy discourse in Bihar under the Nitish Kumar government and how there has been, if at all, a successful shift from the caste empowerment to economic development. Acknowledging the recent growth story of Bihar, Dr. Witsoe, is going to discuss the story of Baloo Mafia (Sand Mafia) in the backdrop of such changes leading to a construction boom and the increased demand for sand. Dr. Witose will focus on the district of Bhojpur in the northwestern part of Bihar.

The mining mafia, however, have not become weak or insignificant, in fact they have become more powerful in different ways. As per the confidential sources of Beyond Headlines, we are aware that Sand Mining is continuing in full swing. Nevertheless, the government of Bihar has been self-congratulatory irrespective of the illegal practices in sand mining. The terror of the Sand Mining Mafia still runs large and no one in the affected villages was willing to talk to us on this aspect. 

In this backdrop, this is important to note that many states including Bihar, Rajasthan and Karnataka are in the process of either having a new or modifying their existing policy framework to regulate sand mining in 2012. More importantly the Government of India Standing Committee on Coal and Steel is also inviting suggestions to improve upon the proposed Mining and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Bill 2011. The deadline is 11 February 2011. So the lecture will hopefully draw some anthropological insights tempered with the current development so that Dr. Witose’s observations can be used by the states and as well as the central government in improving their existing policy frameworks. Beyond Headlines will publish an investigative feature story on the sand mining and other mining activities in Bihar in the coming days.

Mr. Dash is the Honorary Editor and Mr. Sahil is the Editor Investigations at BH.



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