When Bhartiya Janata Party government was formed in Uttar Pradesh under the leadership of Yogi Adityanath, a number of educated middle class people thought that days of caste politics and corruption were over. They were expecting clean government.
Yogi Adityanath government cancelled all sand mining contracts alleging illegality and corruption in operations, and announced that it’ll come up with a new sand mining policy. This seemed justified because escapades of mining minister in the previous government Gayatri Prasad Prajapati were fresh in public memory.
Illegal sand mining is not just a menace in U.P. but it is an all India phenomena and officials had to pay with their lives if they tried to take an action against illegal operations. Sand mafia killed deputy tehsildar R. Venkatesan in 2004 in Tamil Nadu. Indian Police Services officer Narendra Kumar was killed in Morena in 2012 and forest guard Narendra Sharma was run over by tractor trolley and crushed to death in Raira, Gwalior in 2016, both in Madhya Pradesh. Boyini Sayulu, a Village Revenue Assitant, in Kamareddy, Telengana was mowed down earlier this year.
However three sand mining contracts, all connected to BJP Members of Parliament, Guddu Pandey from Padrauna, Harish Dwivedi from Basti, Pankaj Chaudhary from Maharajganj and recommended by at least another ten BJP Members of Legislative Assembly, were awarded to Suprayas Construction, Deoria, Reliable Infrabuild, Gorakhpur and Globe India Infrastructure, Maharajganj in the bed of Narayani or Badi Gandak river in Kushinagar district to fetch Rs. 2,47,61,520, Rs. 2,65,21,530 and Rs. 2,32,45,410, respectively, as revenue for the government in the first year. This means that government will get a total of Rs. 7,45,28,460 from these contracts. A tractor trolley, which can fill upto 3 cubic metres of sand, is sold for Rs. 4,000 in the market. The cost that the contractor is required to pay to the government is only Rs. 65 per cu.m. The margin is enormous.
No mining contract has been awarded ever before in this area. These contracts were awarded without the formation of sub-divisional committee or the appraisal committee which were required to take a decision on this matter. Instead a junior officer Assistant Engineer was made to sign the approval of these contracts.
Interestingly, a senior executive engineer of the Irrigation department, who is incharge of Floods has written a letter to District Magistrate, Kushinagar on 2 February, 2018 that sand mining in this area will be a threat to 17 km long Ahiraulidan-Pipraghat (AP) embankment on the U.P.-Bihar border, which provides protection to close to 50 villages including Ahiraulidan, Baghachair, Nonia Patti, Farsachapar, Bagh Khas, Virvat Konhwalia, Jawahi Dayal, Baghwa Jagdish, Parsa Khirsia, Jangli Patti, Pipraghat, Domath, Mathia Sriram, Vedupar, Dediyari, Siswa Deegar, Siswa Awwal, Kairatia, Muhed Chapar, etc., and 1.5 lakh population. The river is known for its vagary behaviour and has devoured a number of villages as it dramatically changed it course. It is ironical that against an expected revenue of Rs. 7.5 crores from new sand mining contracts the government spent Rs. 22 crores in 2016-17 and another Rs. 36 crores in 2017-18 for protection of embankment from erosion by the river. No cost-benefit analysis can justify these contracts even if we attach no cost to the lives of people living in villages which will be drowned if there is a breach in the embankment.
Leader of Congress Legislature Party in U.P., Ajay Kumar Lallu who happens to be a MLA from Sewrahi, on one end of the AP embankment, is leading an over hundred days sit-in at Virvat Konhwalia village on the embankment since 3 February, 2018 demanding cancellation of abovementioned three contracts. 19 protestors were arrested by district administration on false charges on 6 April, 2018, of which 17 have been released on bail. Narad and Gautam Singh are still in jail facing charges of dacoity and attempt to murder. Whereas the fact is that the protestors caught six trucks illegally carrying sand. Because of the continuous sit-in of villagers the mining activity in river has been stalled.
In an unrelated incident and a major scandal, Forest Department of U.P. government has registered a First Infomation Report on 5 May, 2018 against its own officials serving on deputation, Managing Director, U.P. Forest Corporation, S.K. Sharma, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forest and General Managar Manoj Sinha and Divisional Manager, Eco-restoration, G.C. Sinha for inviting online tenders for coarse sand mining under the euphemism of ‘eco-restoration,’ in violation of state and central government norms and regulations. The proposed activities were to be carried out in Nazimabad, Urai, Hamirpur, Mirzapur and Sonebhadra on forest land which was utterly illegal. Could the three senior officers have undertaken the exercise in violation of Indian Forest Act and Supreme Court ban on sand mining in forest areas on their own, without any external political pressure acting on them? Did they not know that they would be liable to be punished? S.K. Sharma has been forced to go on leave and the two Sinhas have been suspended. It is a matter of investigation on whose behest these three senior most officers were acting.
Far from checking corruption, the BJP government seems to have opened new avenues for it at higher rates. It has failed to demonstrate the political will to act against illegal sand mining business. Instead it too has adopted the beaten path, where politicians become part of the bandwagon of corruption.