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A widow's tears

Mumbai (2012-03-12): She sat by the side of her husband's lifeless body; a stray tear escaped her blood shot eyes. Relatives, village elders and her husband's colleagues openly wept at the cruel end of a life that held so much promise.

Madhurani Teotia, IAS, wrapped in a voluminous shawl concealing her pregnancy, cupped her hands to her husband's face one last time, before she lit his funeral pyre.

In a week's time, thirty-year-old Narendra Kumar Singh will become just another statistic. One more police officer killed in the line of duty, trying to prevent the mining mafia from having their way. The tears will dry up and the outrage will peter out. Soon there will be murmurs of whether he was just impetuous, didn't take adequate back up with him before launching an attack, a larger conspiracy to defame a BJP government, some long lost links to the Congress party.

The nexus between the mining mafia, politicians and bureaucrats is too strong and too deep and crosses all political lines. Justice and punishment are very rare. "Law will take its course," means that justice will lose "its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit" (with apologies to our Poet Laureate Tagore).

Madhu Koda a sitting chief minister of Jharkhand had to resign following a  4,300 crore rupee  mining scam, but is now an MP. The Gali Reddy brothers in Karnataka toppled governments, threatened MPs and bureaucrats, had the media in their pocket till greed got the better of them and they overplayed their hand and the Lokayukta got them.

Journalists who dare to write about the nexus are tortured or eliminated. 42 year old, Chandrika Rai, his wife and two teenage children were hacked to death last month because he wrote several articles on the coal mafia in Madhya Pradesh and the alleged involvement of a local politician.

Two weeks back, in Chennai the Chairman of the Press Council, Justice Markandey Katju heard complaints of the editor of Thinaboomi, S Manimaran and his family who had to face harassment due to a series of articles his paper wrote on the mining mafia in the Madurai district during the DMK rule. Katju expressed anguish that the "mining mafia" was looting the country "in several states".

The mining mafia, from sand to stone to coal, operate with impunity across 17 states in the country. We have the dubious distinction of having more illegal mines than legal ones. By government estimates alone there are over 15,000 illegal mines operating in the country. In Maharashtra there are over 34,000 registered cases against illegal mining. Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, and Goa the list goes on and on.

Corporate lobbies pressurise bureaucrats to give permits to allow mining, those who comply are rewarded, and those who don't are transferred or threatened. Law enforcement personnel face similar challenges. In many cases they can't even enter mining zones as the mafia have roped in Naxals to give them extra-legal protection in return for hard cash. That cash is used to buy explosives, mines and guns to mow down CRPF personnel.

According to a report prepared by the Centre for Science and Environment more than 2 crore people have been displaced due to mining activities in the first 45 years since independence and not even 25 per cent of them had been rehabilitated. Uprooted from their land, which they had occupied for generations, no source of income and no skills that could be put to use in the cities, they migrated to. An India that nobody wants to think about, millions of Indians whose story is so depressing that it doesn't get told. Nobody is suggesting that mining be stopped completely, but that it be done judiciously and that the benefits should reach the local population. By one estimate nearly 40 per cent of those who work in mines live below the poverty line.

Illegal mining falls within the fuzzy legal lines of who controls mining -- the centre or the state, and who controls policing and law enforcement. If the police and local administration are given complete freedom to do their job which is to catch and prosecute the guilty and issue permits only to legitimate players then hopefully there will be no more tragedies like the brutal killing of Narendra Kumar.

© copyright midday

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I am the Editor News, at Asian News International (ANI), Indias leading Multimedia News Agency and the India Correspondent for Channel News Asia, a Singapore based broadcaster.
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