Illegal mining syndicates and the Naxals share a symbiotic relationship – they both want the isolated, backward districts of Chhattisgarh to stay that way.
As usual, the channel was targeting the wrong people and asking the wrong question. Its editors were deliberately camouflaging their prejudices as pious concerns for the country.
Chhattisgarh’s worst insurgency-hit, tribal-dominated, iron-ore bearing districts, Bastar and Dantewada, are among the ten most backward districts of the country. Almost all of the state’s districts feature in the 150 backward district lists of India.
Between October 1980 and July 2016, India has diverted almost 9,00,000 hectares of forestland for non-forest purposes. This amounts to 1.2% of India’s total forest area as of 2015. Of the 8,97,698.4 hectares of forest land diverted all over India, Madhya Pradesh had the highest share at over 27%. Chhattisgarh ranked second at 9.4%. In Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, huge areas of land have been used up for coal and iron ore mining. One-third of Dantewada’s forests have been degraded due to mining activities. Pollution of water resources and degradation of natural forests topped up by large-scale land acquisition have affected the state’s large Adivasi population. According to independent observers, almost 40% of all those displaced by mining and industrial projects in India have been tribals, though they are only 8% of the population. Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand have been among the worst hit. The degradation and displacement has had anticipated social implications –but also unanticipated political consequences. The widespread discontent and conflict has been translated into the growing influence of Naxalism in these states.
Chhattisgarh has a sanctioned strength of around 1,200 medical specialists for the entire state but only about 250 posts are filled, mostly outside Bastar’s rural, tribal and violence-hit areas – devastating an already poor healthcare infrastructure.
The living conditions and the basic medical facilities are so inadequate that even the security personnel are not immune to decades of criminal negligence and administrative indifference. In 2012, 36 CRPF men died of mosquito bites and heart attacks as against 37 in Maoist violence. In 2013, as many as 22 CRPF men fell to the two diseases as against 20 to Maoists. In 2014, while 50 CRPF men died in Maoist attacks, 95 died due to various diseases. Of these, 27 fell to malaria, while 35 died due to heart attacks. The data says as much about the poor working conditions and lack of medical care for jawans in Naxal areas as they do about the pitiable conditions of the local communities.
Between April 2012 and September 2015 in Chhattisgarh, 13,383 cases of illegal mining have been filed in various courts and 1,138 vehicles seized. The corresponding figures for Madhya Pradesh are 28,830 and 14,671. These figures show how rampant illegal mining is in these states and what the organised mining mafia syndicates and their political patrons are doing there. Organised illegal mining is not possible without direct and indirect involvement of the local police and revenue administrations. And the police and revenue officials can’t lend their shoulders to the wheels of such a lucrative business without the blessings of the political executives – irrespective of their party affiliations.
Illegal mining syndicates and the Naxals share a symbiotic relationship. It is in the interest of both that the densely-forested, thinly-populated, mineral-rich tribal areas stay isolated from the outside world and remain economically backward. The mining mafia can’t afford to let go of their immensely lucrative business. They have done their best to prevent these areas from having road and mobile connectivity and last mile internet access. That explains why they finance the Maoists – and, by extension, their violent attacks on security forces. Illegal miners want the Naxalites to prevent the building of roads, schools, hospitals, police stations and other infrastructure that could help people and capital access the mining areas. Road connectivity will encourage openness. With mobile telephones everywhere, anyone can take video clips of illegal mining. That would compel the authorities to act and the media to take note, and make illegal mining much more difficult to conceal from the public.
The biggest beneficiaries of illegal mining are the politicians themselves. There is evidence on record. Preliminary investigations by the CBI into the Saradha chit fund scam showed that at least Rs 1,000 crore had been invested in illegal mining in the northeast region. Mamta Badkar, reporting for Business Insider on October 4, 2012, put up photographs as evidence of the exploitative conditions under which illegal mining in the northeast thrived. The biggest beneficiaries were investors like Saradha and its powerful supporters of all political hues. Moreover, the Justice J.C. Shah Commission report named 14 miners and asked for a CBI enquiry. All were linked to illegal mining in Odisha. Incidentally, the state that accounts for the largest number of registered incidents of illegal mining is Maharashtra. No political parties have made any noise about this. Not even the Left.
The conduct of the Chhattisgarh police has come under serious scrutiny of the Supreme Court. In January this year, the CBI charged seven constables of the Chhattisgarh police with arson and causing grievous hurt in raids on three villages in Sukma in 2011. Another 26 men – many of whom are former members of the outlawed Salwa Judum – have been charged with rioting and violence. Earlier in December 2015, while investigating this case, the CBI filed an affidavit before the Supreme Court, alleging that the Chhattisgarh police was thwarting its probe into key cases in Maoist-hit areas. It has cited instances when state police personnel assaulted its team. If this can happen to the officers of India’s apex federal agency, what is happening to the poor tribals in Chhattisgarh is best left to imagination.
I hope Times Now and other channels like it will find time to do their homework before playing this game of nationalism. India deserves journalism. The tagline “The nation wants to know” doesn’t belong to television anchors. It belongs to the people of India.
Basant Rath is in the Indian Police Service (2000, Jammu and Kashmir) and works in Jammu and Kashmir. The views expressed are personal.