“I have a licensed revolver for my security. Otherwise, these people would attack me or kill me.”
Lal Chand Yadav says with a lump in his throat. We were riding on a motorcycle to his farmland that is surrounded by rock mines in Meena Ka Nagal village in Sikar district of Rajasthan. He was earlier employed as a soldier who served the country in many counter-terrorism operations with the Rashtriya Rifles, a branch of the Indian Army.
There are several mines and stone crushers on both sides of the road that leads to his farmland. Most of the agricultural fields have been converted into stone mines. Although farmlands exist, those are just small strips surrounded by mines. So is Yadav’s land.
Neem Ka Thana is a small town and tehsil headquarters of Sikar district in Rajasthan. It is situated in the valley of Aravalli range with beautiful natural greenery and isolated rocky offshoots. The width of the peaks and ridges varies between 10 to 100 kilometres. The hills are rich in natural resources with diverse flora and fauna, lightly forested, having a wide variety of animals.
Residents of this village daily face small ‘earthquakes’ as mining groups blast the hillocks with powerful explosives. According to an affidavit submitted to the National Green Tribunal by the Rajasthan government, more than 400 ‘legal’ mines are operating in Neem Ka Thana tehsil. Local environmental activist Kailash Meena says that these mines are ‘legal’ only on paper, as these violate all the terms and conditions provided by the government departments. According to Meena, more than 1,000 illegal mines are operating in Neem Ka Thana.
Hundreds of trucks carrying stone and rock sand go to the National Capital Region every day to build new apartments and industrial buildings of Gurgaon and Noida.
On the way to Meena Ka Nagal, Yadav’s village, one can see many people walking to the nearby town. The roads are in a pitiable condition because of plying of overloaded trucks filled with stones in a dangerous manner. Often, these stones fall off from the trucks onto the roads, further deteriorating the road condition.
“These people are walking to the town because we do not have any public transport facility here. The overloaded trucks of the mining mafia have destroyed all the public roads and no vehicle could be driven safely on these roads,” Yadav says.
Yadav’s land is surrounded by mines from all three sides. There is a narrow path leading to his land, beside a mine of more than 50-ft depth.
“Three sides of my field are surrounded by mines. They have created obstructions to the entry by turning the passage impossible to travel through. At one point, there is a 50-ft drop. Now, we can’t enter our own farmland. The route to the village is cut off by mining. I have, somehow, managed to create a path for the people to walk to the farm through the mines but it’s dangerous and one can accidentally fall into the mines also,” he says.
Krishnakumar, Yadav’s younger brother, and his wife Sunita were abused and heckled by illegal miners and the police once when they went to their farm. This incident happened in September of 2014.
“On September 22, I went along with my husband to the farm to cut grass where our cattle graze. All of a sudden, four to five men came to the field and started abusing and threatening us. I can identify them, if needed. They took us to their office near the mines after forcing us into their car and called the police. They locked us there till the police arrived. After the police arrived, they also behaved in a rude manner – abusing and threatening us. The police told the officials to carry on with the blasting at mines; they said the blasting will take place in front of our eyes,” says Sunita, a 22-year-old postgraduate student.
The police took Sunita and her husband away from the mines and threatened them to be arrested and thrashed if they raise their voice against the mining mafia.
“After this, the police pressure increased and they would come to our house to illegally arrest members of the family. I had to leave my 2-year-old child behind to hide or they would take me with them,” Sunita recalls those fearful days.
Surendra Singh, a resident of Haryana, has been a leaseholder of a mine adjacent to Yadav’s agricultural land.
Allegedly, he has been involved in illegal mining around Yadav’s agricultural land.
Rameshwar Lal Yadav, Lal Chand’s father, had raised his voice against the illegal encroachment on his land. He approached the mining engineer, Superintendent of Police and the Chief Minister of Rajasthan.
The mining engineer of Sikar visited the place and submitted a report stating mining activities were illegal, which corroborated the claims by Yadav’s family. But, there was no further action from the government side.
Rameshwar decided to file a suit in the court to get an injunction order. The civil judge of the Neem Ka Thana court summoned the respondents, for which their counsel made an appearance on September 20, 2014. On September 22, they heckled and harassed Sunita and her husband with an ulterior motive of booking them in a criminal case.
The police have framed a case against the family of Lal Chand Yadav, including Sunita, for ‘unlawful assembly and extortion’ under IPC Sections 143 and 384. The High Court of Rajasthan quashed this FIR later considering a petition filed by Ramshwar’s family.
Yadav accuses that the police have been bribed well by the mining mafia so that they do favours.
“They threatened me that they would beat the hell out of me and abduct our children. They would harass my brother’s wife when she used to go to drop children to school. They threatened to harm the kids as well. Now I have been forced to leave the village with my children and move to Behror. I am educating them in Behror,” Yadav says.
Several mines could be seen within the fences of the Forest Department. Yadav accused the Forest Department of conniving with the mining mafia.
“The Forest Department is also not objecting to mining in the forest area as they are paid bribes. The mining mafia keeps threatening that the “MLA is with us, it’s our government, you can do nothing” etc. The mining department is also hand in glove with them. They support these guys,” Yadav says.
But District Forest Officer Rajendra Hudda has denied the allegations. “We took steps to stop the illegal mining in the forest areas. We are strictly following the instructions of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to protect the environment,” Hudda says.
A judgment of the Green Tribunal regarding mining units operating on forest land of Bhopiya village in Neem Ka Thana tehsil (Ram Swaroop Yadav Vs. State of Rajasthan & Ors- 2015) prohibited mining activities in the forest land. It also stated that any such illegal encroachment would be a violation of the provisions contained in the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.
However, a mining engineer who works with a mining company in the village told me that everything is legal there. “We do not conduct any illegal activity here. We have lease and licence from the government,” he says.
Lal Chand Yadav had to take voluntary retirement from the Army to be with his family and protect them. He and all the younger members of the family had to flee from Meena Ka Nagal to a distant place named Behror, as the atrocities escalated. His old parents stayed back to continue with their farming.
“The mining mafia will be ready to give me Rs 2 crore or more for my land as they can use it for mining. But I want this land to be used for farming. My parents also wish to do so,” Yadav says.
In the Waman Rao Vs Union of India case, the Supreme Court had observed: “If there is one place in an agriculture-dominated society like ours where citizens can hope to have equal justice, it is on the strip of land which they love, the land which assures them of dignity by providing them with a near decent means of livelihood.”
Lal Chand’s anecdote is not an isolated one in this region. Neem Ka Thana has many such stories to tell about the atrocities of the mining mafia.