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Musings
   Prasoon S Majumdar
Prasoon S Majumdar
Editor, Economic Affairs - The Sunday Indian
Dean Academics (All India), The Indian Institute of Planning and Management
[05/09/2010]

Our own banana republics!

Illegal mining is acting as a resource pool for Naxals

I llegal mining is nothing new in India. For years, it has been omnipresent wherein a handful of people have been privatising profits at the cost of national resources. The growth of illegal mining can be credited to the latent support it has always received from the power corridors of the nation. Be it the local politicians, businessmen or the smugglers, all are in hand in gloves in this thriving and blatant robbery. By this, not only the resources are getting plundered by a few but also tribals are deprived of their property rights in the regions. What more, rampant extortion, murder, kidnapping and encroachment are integral parts of this illegal mining industry. Banana republics...

Now for the past few years, the new avatar of this illegal mining business has become such a monster that the erstwhile supporters are themselves finding it tough to cope up with. Once seen as an illegal business and funding mechanism for elections campaigns have today emerged as hurdle for the same political motive. Several mines are located in the Naxal-affected areas and are been seen as money minting zone for the Naxal movement. With Naxals now operating as organised criminal groups, attacking with a cluster of more than 100 people loaded with modern weapon — the illegal mining has taken up a new direction. A recent finding revealed that naxalites get a staggering 20-30 per cent cut on each truck of resources illegally taken out of a mine, while the bureaucrats in that region receive 10-15 per cent share. Researches estimate that there are around 60,000 illegal coal mines and about half a million illegal miners in the eastern coal belt of India, and over 7,20,000 tonnes of coal is smuggled every day! The Ministry of Mines estimates that the number of illegal mines for major minerals to be nothing less than 2,400 and that for minor minerals to be more than 28,000!!

In addition, illegal mining adds a high social cost by blatant environment contamination by the illegal miners. In the absence of any checks and balances and no accountability, the waste disposal is arbitrary. As per figures as old as four years back, around two lakh hectares of forest land had been diverted for mining and 1.50 billion tonnes of waste was dumped into the region largely affecting the fertility and the agricultural output. In the given environment and in the absence of any plausible alternatives, the hapless farmers are joining the naxalite movement. And so for the Naxal groups, the illegal mining is not just ensuring a regular income stream which comes in form of taxes that they levy on the illegal miners, but also a happy hunting ground for recruitments of cadres.

The government has recently announced its plan to allocate 26 per cent of profits to the locals and make them shareholders in the mining company and has also announced reward plans for whistle-blowers on illegal mining — which in all respect is appreciable, but something that should have happened long back! It is so hypocritical that till the time the illegal miners were feeding the election campaigns, no one was bothered, but today when the locals — after years of exploitation — have taken up arms against the establishment, the government seems to wake up from its slumber. And so when government decides on such a plan now, it would fail to work, more so as the damage now is too wide and deep. Till the time the locals have their loyalties towards the naxalites, it is almost impossible to make a break through for any government. It is high time we realise that it is we who have created several banana republics and in such republics no plans work!!




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