Uttar Pradesh – Illegal Mining in Sonbhadra

March 15, 2012

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Illegal Mining: Statement and Demands of Shramjeevi Manch

Sonbhadra Billi- On February 27, 2012, the ongoing illegal mining in Sharda Mandir, Markundi resulted in a disastrous accident. Few days later, on March 3, 2012, the Rashtriya Vanjan Shramjeevi Manch (National Platform for Forest People and Laborers) conducted a high level inquiry into the accident. They fear that hundreds have been killed in this accident. Their investigations revealed that in Billi-Markundi area about 300 sites have continued mining despite the legal expiration of their lease. Some mines have been dug as deep as 100 feet. A day after the accident, all rescue equipment were removed from the site and rescue work was stopped. However, growing resentment of the dead workers’ relatives forced the authorities to resume rescue work. Rescue teams have restarted their search for lost workers and have found one more dead body in the mines. The investigation team of Shramjeevi Manch has presented a charter of their findings and demands:

i) Apart from posting a few policemen, administration has not taken adequate measures to find the dead bodies of workers. In fact, no high ranking officer or expert was present at the site to conduct the search.

ii) Local administration has failed to get adequate equipment required for the removal of boulders from the accident site. They have deployed three small cranes that seem extremely inadequate to remove the giant rocks. The NCL, Jay Pee and HINDALCO, all have big cranes of 80 tons capability that could be used for such jobs. It seems, the administration is deliberately delaying rescue operations.

iii) The slow progress of the rescue effort shows that the administration is trying to conceal the facts of this accident, especially the number of casualties.

iv) Although the lease of this particular mine has expired, mining has been continuing on a large scale. The government departments of mining, forestry, revenues, labour, police as well as some local journalists, district administration, MLA, and the state government, all are culpable and responsible for this illegal mining. Yet, uptill now action has been taken only against some locals and a few lower ranking employees of the police and forest departments.

v) Action must be taken against the mining officer, DFO, labor officer, revenue officers, officials of the pollution control department and contractors. A First Information Report should be filed against all of them.

vi) Jay Pee group, which plays a big role in mining work in this area, has bought over all government departments. With their assistance, the corporate house continues its unabashed loot of natural resources. We suggest that all agreements with this group should be annulled immediately and the proprietors should be charged with murders, theft and loot of natural resources.

vii) The sixteen people charged in the FIR are still moving around freely while the police claim that they are absconding.

viii) Frequent mining accidents often result in workers’ deaths. However, with the help of the local police and contractors, owner-contractors get away by paying a nominal amount of money to the dead workers’ kin. Until now, this brutal exploitation of natural and human resources has not been investigated properly.

ix) We demand that to protect this ecologically sensitive area government should prohibit all mining activities-legal or illegal.

x) Incidentally, the railway department has repeatedly warned the government that coal and stone mining in this area could affect railway tracks and cause disastrous train accidents.

xi) The forest and mining department claim that they do not have information about the departments under whose jurisdiction the mining area falls. But, they just need to look into their own records to understand that these mining regions belong to the forest department.

xii) The Manch demands a CBI inquiry into the cases of illegal mining in Sonbhadra. The government departments and officials associated with these illegal criminal acts must be booked immediately.

xiii) Because of the neglect of the labour department, mining companies freely subvert all labour regulations. Most mining laborers of this region belong to the impoverished dalit and tribal communities. They are forced to work in extremely hazardous situations with no safety equipments and masks to protect them against possible accidents and toxic material. They are made to work more than the legally stipulated hours of work. There is a lack of basic facilities such as creches for the infants of women workers and provision for drinking water. Even after their hard, unregulated labor, workers merely earn Rs 100 a day, less than what NREGA provides as daily wages. A part of their earning is routinely usurped by the unscrupulous mining contractors.

xiv) If the people of this region had been granted forest rights and if they could obtain year round work through the NREGA, they would never have labored in the deadly mines. In fact, the government, administration, and the forest department, all lack the political will to grant these rights to the tribal and dalit people of this region. At the same time, the forest department blatantly implicates people in false cases, abuses them verbally and physically, burns down their homes and fields, and even gets people killed. All this is done to undermine peoples’ rights over sources of their livelihood. Consequently, people are left with no option but to work in the dangerous mines. In this district, the forest department has implicated about twenty thousand tribals in various court cases. Of these, eighty percent are women whom the forest department has categorized as mafia. Ironically, the real mining and forestry mafia, corrupt police and forest department personnel face no criminal charges and they go scot free.

xv) Because of illegal mining, toxicity of the air has been increasing continuously, threatening the health of humans and the environment. The spread of diseases such as TB, specific types of cancer, and silicosis, are directly linked to such environmental pollution. Although these diseases are growing, there are no facilities for their treatment in this district or its adjoining areas.

xvi) In this context, we demand a separate inquiry from the ministry of environment. They should conduct a thorough investigation into the issue of illegal mining and release a white paper based on their findings.

xvii) Environmental experts and relevant international organizations should also conduct an inquiry. Based on their reports, a movement should be started to protect the environment of this region.

xviii) The tribals of this area should not be treated merely as a source of easily available cheap labour. Rather, their significant role in protecting the environment and ecology of this region should be duly appreciated. Simultaneously, the corrupt officials, mafias, and contractors should be booked and punished for ruining the lives and livelihood of the people and for damaging the environment.

With Thanks,
Roma, Shanta Bhattacharya, Sokalo Devi, Vinod Pathak, Ramashankar, Radhakant Dwivedi, Vijay, Vine

[Translated by Priyanka Srivastava and Deepankar Basu]

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Massive protest against death of workers in the illegal mines of Sonbhadra

Note received from Roma

March 5, 2012

Massive protest by thousands of adivasi and dalit men, women against the illegal mining taking place in Sonbhadra where many workers were killed on 27th February 2012.

A memorandum of 19 demands was presented to the Governor : for conducting CBI enquiry; terminating and also filing a FIR on DFO, Mining Ofiicer, Labor Commissioner, Revenue Officers, Police Officers; arresting all the 16 people who were booked (many of them prominent persons, some journalists); implementing of Forest Rights Act and NREGA effectively so that tribal and forest dwellers are not forced to work in unhygienic/unsafe conditions; protecting environment from mafia and big companies.

Thousands of women and men marched in whole of Robertsganj, Sonbhadra, even though it was a holiday, and gheraoed the police station. The police station had to open their gates to allow people to have their say. An ultimatum of 15 days was given to the administration to work on the demands, otherwise a very big movement will be launched.

The protest was jointly organised by National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers, Kaimur Kshetra Mahila Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Samitit, Human Rights Law Network, Federation of Natural Resource Based Working People, Inquilabi Naujwan Sabha.

Click here to read the memorandum (in Hindi)

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An English translation of a related news item that appeared in Janadesh -

Nine more deaths, who is responsible

Vijay Vineet, Sonbhadra

On Monday evening, 27th Feb 2012, in Billi-Markundi region under Obra police station, dozens of workers on an illegal mine were buried under rocks when the mine collapsed. People rushed to the site of the tragic accident as soon as they heard about it. Unfortunately the relief work could not be effectively carried out at night. Nine bodies have been recovered from under the rubble and the two seriously injured were transferred to district hospital in Varanasi.

The incident drew a huge outcry from the people in the region. They blocked Varanasi-Shaktinagar road and the police failed to open the route for many days. The district hospital was virtually turned into a police cantonment to prevent people’s protest from growing.

The Billi-Markundi region under Obra police station is called the Bellary of Sonbhadra. There are hundreds and legal and illegal stone quarries operating in the region for a long time. Most of the mining in the region is thought to be illegal. The local gram panchayat leader Rajaram Yadav has been illegally running one of the mines. On the day of the accident, hundreds of workers were working in a deep quarry flanked by high mounds. Owing to the collapse of two high tension poles being erected nearby, one of the mounds caved in, burying a large number of workers.

One of the mine official Ashish Sen admitted that mining in the quarry was being carried out illegally and steps are being taken to file First Information Report against people responsible for operating the mine.

(Translated by Shiv Sethi)