INDIA: Predicament from organised lawlessness 

The murder of an Indian Police Service officer Mr. Narendra Kumar on 8 March in Morena district of Madhya Pradesh has again brought to light the criminal nexus between the mining mafia operating in the country and their patrons in power who have political interests. The young, 2009-batch police officer, stationed as the Sub-Divisional Police Officer at Banmore was rundown by a tractor when he tried to stop the vehicle from proceeding without permission while it was transporting illegally mined materials. It is alleged that the March 8 incident is undertaken at the behest of the illegal mining mafia that receives unparalleled support from the ruling political regime in Madhya Pradesh, the Bharatiya Janata Party. (  AHRC Photo: Stone crusher in Harrai reserve forest in Betul district)

Not surprisingly the Chief Minister of the state, Mr. Shivraj Singh Chouhan, has issued a statement on March 9 claiming that the incident does not appear to be a ‘pre-planned’ murder. At least two high-ranking officers of the state government, the Director General of Police, Mr. Nandan Dubey, and the Chief Secretary, Mr. Avni Vaish, before investigating the case have parroted the Chief Minister’s view, indicating the limit to which the investigation into the crime would extend and pretty much of its fate. As if in an attempt to legitimise the whole process the state government has ordered a judicial enquiry into the incident.

In a country like India, where criminal investigations could be manipulated without limits including investigators bought with money and political power, the fate of such an inquiry is conceivable. To seal it off, the Home Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Mr. Uma Shankar Gupta, has stated that the incident is an accident.

Illegal and environmentally devastating mining activities undertaken in the state is not a new concern. For instance the Comptroller and Auditor General of India has reported to the government, that an estimated 6906 illegal mines are operating in Madhya Pradesh owing to which the country is losing revenue at the rate of Rs. 1,500 Crore, estimated to be USD 33 million every year. The CAG report does not limits itself to revenue loss from illegal mines. The report claims that a similar amount is lost due to improper revenue enforcement in otherwise legal mines. This includes awarding of very low rents, and intentional non-reportage of income for evading tax.

The report further claims that in most cases no regulatory compliance, for instance concerning environmental impact, loss of forest area and water resources were sought or obtained and if obtained openly violated. A scrutiny of records from eight forest divisions in the state reveals that an estimated 1507.391 hectares of forestland is allotted for non-forest use, without obtaining permission from the central government. The CAG expresses concern that in most cases penal or corrective actions were not taken. The report also throws light into the fact that mining activities have a direct and non-reversible impact upon the lives of the tribal communities that depend upon forest resources for survival.

Reports by the CAG concerning other states also enumerate similar alarming concerns. In essence, the mining and political – mafia linkages is not a character of the BJP ruled states. The disheartening fact is that the Prime Minister’s office itself is not immune to such scams. The Coal Ministry headed by the Prime Minister, leasing mines at literally throwaway prices that did not even meet the market value at the time, during the 2006-07 period is an example.

In addition to the loss of livelihood options illegal and legal mining also has a rapid adverse impact upon the tribal communities living in areas where most of these mines exist. Alcoholism, sexual abuse, spread of disease that the tribal communities are not immune to and bonded labour in mines are some examples. Working conditions in most mines are appalling and concerning illegal mines there is no such thing as safety.

Illegal and unsafe mining is also a cause for the alarming increase in the spread of diseases like tuberculosis and silicosis. Silicosis has already taken life of 697 labourers in Alirajpur, Jhabua, Dhar, Badwani and Panna districts. It is reported that more than 2100 persons are suffering from silicosis in these districts. Industries make money and institutions like the Supreme Court and the National Human Rights Commission issuing directions to the governments, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh in particular for compensating lives lost. However the reality is such that none of these directions are implemented, despite the Supreme Court issuing show-cause notices to these two governments on three separate occasions within the past 20 months. Those who complain are booked at will in forest or other criminal offences fabricated against them. This has also allowed the widespread rooting of Naxalite activities across the mining belt, against which the mine owners have formed their own private armed militia that commits crimes with impunity.    ( AHRC Photo: Forest boundary destroyed and reconstructed to make a road to an illegal mine in Kamod village )

The impunity of criminal syndicates that defend illegal mining interests have access to power at all levels. The murder of Narendra Kumar, is the result of this culture of impunity. According to a statement by Narendra Kumar’s father, Mr. Keshav Singh, issued immediately after his son’s death, Singh has alleged that his son was reportedly not receiving support from the local police. This however is not surprising in an environment where the state government whole-heartedly supports illegal mining syndicates that literally rules parts of the state and persons connected to the syndicate holding powerful positions in the state capital.

The scenario also presents a conflict of interest, between the criminal syndicates and those who are bound to prevent this. Consider this, in the absence of any open and transparent mechanism to check overnight increase of wealth of the elected representatives, what would explain the reported 3000 percent increase in wealth of a member of the legislative assembly or that of the parliament? In a country that has legislations that if put to use property by way of an implementing framework, there is nothing like it concerning politicians. None asks the question how a person multiplies his or her assets a few thousand times within five years in the assembly or in the parliament.

The March 8 incident is not an isolated one. On 18 February the entire family of a journalist, Mr. Chandrika Roy, and the journalist were hacked to death at their home. Roy has been reporting about illegal coalmining mafia operating in Umaria district. The investigation into the case has not progressed a bit despite the passage of three weeks.

At the core of these incidents is the nexus of the ruling elite with criminal elements in the country, a mutually beneficial exercise that has continued unabated so far. The bondages and interdependency is such that today there is hardly any distinction between a criminal in illegal business, an elected representative to the state or central government and a corrupt bureaucrat. Religiously motivated political parties not only use such lawlessness for financial gains but also to promote fundamentalist religious ideologies among the population.

To sustain this criminal syndicate, the country’s justice institutions are held at ransom, where equal extent of corruption and other forms of criminal practices flourish with impunity. The resultant environment is that of chaos and organised lawlessness. Indians are ill-fated to call it however a democracy.

For information and comments contact: 
In Hong Kong:
Bijo Francis
Telephone: +852 – 26986339
Pictures provided by: Partners, Madhya Pradesh