The family members of the 9 labourers who died in the mine accident which occurred during illegal mining at Billi Markundi in Sonebhadra District of Uttar Pradesh on 27 February, are still waiting for justice. What are the political parties or the government doing in this regard ? Workers from political parties and from the government are resorting to picketing to activate the Sonebhadra mines. Among them a majority are from the Forest Department – they have done mining work previously. The local newspapers are also providing good coverage to them, whereas the victims are not on their priority list.
To investigate this incident, social activists formed a team, in which Sandeep Pandey, Roma, Shanta Bhattacharya, Vijay Vinit, Ramashankar and Jayshankar Pandey, and others are involved. This investigation team investigated the heart breaking incident that occurred due to illegally coordinated stone mining at Billi Markundi in Sonebhadra district on 27 February, 2012. Their report says that on the day of the incident, at around 5 pm, 40 labourers with half dozen tractors were working in the mines. Before mining, around a dozen holes were made in the mine area by using explosives which blew a large portion of the hill area. The labourers were put to work immediately after the explosion. The mine was around 1000 feet deep and if anybody gets down there, then it is not easy for him to come out of it. After some time a big portion of the hill area started to slide down. Due to the land slide, a dozen labourers were buried under the rubble and started yelling. 9 labourers died. All of them were from Chhattisgarh.
After inspecting the illegal mining spot it is quite clear that mining was continuously done there for the last few years, and many people are involved. The role of the Mining Department and the Forest Department is the most suspicious because the land where mining was done was in the prohibited forest area and without the permission of the Forest Department no mining can be carried out on that land.
The administration removed the rubble for three days and at last, on the fourth day, it was stopped. The District administration suspended a surveyor of the Mining Department. The Superintendent of Police suspended the SHO with two policemen of Obra police station. After this no legal proceedings were made against any Government worker or officer. According to the records of Arjun Putra Somaru, brother of a local victim, FIRs were lodged against 16 illegal mining officials including the Pradhan of Billi Markundi village, Raja Ram Yadav, Tempo Gupta, Sacchidanand Tiwari, Faujdar Singh, Rajbahadur Bharti, Dhiraj Jaiswal, Shivsaran Bharti, Pampu Pani, Rohit Malhotra, Sundar Mishra, Pintu Patel, Sanoj Chaudhari, Manoj Chaudhari, Ramnarayan Yadav, Anil Maurya and P.K. Singh. Among these one is the father of a journalist of Lucknow, Ashutosh Singh. After this the case was totally covered up. Only three people were arrested after the FIR was lodged. The remaining were roaming freely and after 15 days Raja Ram, Rajbahadur, Pampu Pani, Shivsaran, Dhiraj, Yogendra Singh succeeded in bringing stay orders from the High Court.
No compensation was provided to the labourers of Chhattisgarh. After almost 45 days from the incident on 17 April, when the investigators reached the spot, they were stunned. One red coloured tractor was found under the rubble at the mine site. The village chief Raja Ram Yadav used to live barely 200 metres from that mine. And exactly 50 yards from the mine, two and a half dozen houses made of bricks, similar to animal enclosures were found. Mud stoves were also found in every house. People were still staying there, and when asked they said that those people who died in the mine incident used to live in these houses. For the time being no work is going on in the entire mining area, so no labourers were found at the spot.
The mine where the accident occurred was said to be in plot no. 4452, which was found to be of Indrajit Malhotra and Hansraj in the log. No mining lease was lodged for the land. Likewise plot no. 4471 was of 12.89 hectares in which 1.783 hectare land is in the name of different officials. The remaining is hill land and 8 hectares is in the forest area. It is also included in the mine area where the accident occurred. Except 2 hectares of the land, mining was found almost everywhere. Plot no. 4449 falls in the hilly area. Mining was also done there. Plot no. 4450 where mining was also done was is the name of an influential land owner. Mining was done in such a manner that it seemed no one from the Vigilance Department ever came there. After inspecting the illegal mining spot it is quite clear that mining was continuously done there for the last few years, and many people are involved. The role of the Mining Department and the Forest Department is the most suspicious because the land where mining was done was in the prohibited forest area and without the permission of the Forest Department no mining can be carried out on that land. The mining process was investigated and checked by the workers and the officials of the Mining Department from time to time. So it was quite clear that they also have ignored the matter because if they had done proper investigation then it was not possible to do mining in such a huge area. Other than this the Tehsildars, Lekhpals and Lawyers of the Revenue Department were also said to have done surveys in the area from time to time. But no one has sent any reports to the higher officials or the administration for stopping this mining process. So it becomes quite clear that these Government Departments are responsible for the death of those 9 labourers.
After the accident, favourable news was published in some local newspapers of Sonebhadra. This indicates that in this business of illegal mining at the local level journalists also used to take their shares from the mining officials. All the political parties started creating a nuisance to marginalise the matter by pressurising the District Administration, because many land plots were found in the names of many political leaders. For example, the mines of Jayprakash Singh and Suryanath Singh, the nephew and son of BJP leader Rajnath Singh respectively are being operated in plot no. 6629 at Billi Markundi, for which the mining lease was given on 01.12.2001. The District Vice Chairman of the BJP, Ashok Kumar Mishra, also has a mine in plot no. 7407. Likewise many other BJP leaders have their own mines there. Kapindra Nath Pathak, nephew of Former Minister of Congress Late Bacha Pathak also has a mine in one and a half acres. Other than this Rahul Srivastava, a PCC member of the Congress Party and a strong supporter of the Congress in the district, Gyanendra Pati Tripathi also have mines there. Umashankar Singh, Legislator of BSP and Chairman of Chhatra Shakti Construction Company has a mine there too. Likewise, SP leaders Ramesh Vaishya and Dharamveer Singh Yadav have mines there. The State Chairman of the Indian Revolutionary Party, Brish Bhan Agrawal, has a mine there. Famous journalists of the District namely, Bashir Beg, Manoj Tiwary, Ravi Jalan, Rahul Srivastava, Imtiaz Ahmed, who travel in cars on which ‘PRESS’ is written in the front also have mines there. So everybody is trying to marginalise the matter. In this whole game, the Forest Department, Revenue Department and Mining Department of Sonebhadra District are involved and everybody’s partisanship is connected to the income coming from this illegal mining.
After the mine accident and the death of 9 labourers, an FIR was lodged only against 16 people.Without the permission of the Government Departments, this would not have been possible. Vijay Vinit, member of the investigation team went on a fast to protest against this matter. He also appealed for lodging an FIR against the Forest Department, Revenue Department and Mining Department. Providing adwquate compensation to the families of the dead labourers and a CBI investigation were also demanded. But still no legal proceedings have been initiated against these Government officials. Only some people were suspended because they were not following the directions of the officials.
When the investigation team asked through RTI for a detailed report on the current situation of the records of the plots, some astonishing news came forward. Neither the Revenue Department, neither the Forest department nor the Mining Department accepted that the land on which that accident occurred belongs to them. It has become clear from the RTI that the land on which mining was done was mostly forest area which is governed under rule no. 4 of the Indian Forest Act. Due to continuous mining, these mines have become nearly a thousand feet deep where water has also oozed out.
The investigation team is demanding that a FIR should be lodged immediately against the Divisional Forest Officer of Obra, O.P. Chaurasia and the Mining Commissioner. Moreover the former District Commissioners who started this mining process should also be investigated and a FIR should be lodged against the culpable District Commissioners.