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Don 2, a new avatar
Is the politician beginning to replace the mafia don as the new kingpin of Jharkhand's illegal mining business?
In the past decade, Jharkhand's old mining mafia, which flourished on account of its muscle power, seems to have been replaced by a few politicians who use local goons as their agents to control the illegal mining business, be it in coal, bauxite or iron ore.
A PIL in the Jharkhand high court against Jharkhand Vikas Morcha-Prajatantrik MLA Dhulu Mahato, which alleges that the legislator has amassed property worth Rs 200 crore from illegal coal mining, points to the control of politicians over the booming mining business. "I have seen the meteoric rise of Dhulu Mahato because of his involvement in the illegal coal business, " alleges the petitioner Somnath Chatterjee. He also claims that the recent killing of Sister Valsa John, a Pakur-based nun and activist, is also linked to coal mining. "If the government doesn't do anything, the killings will continue and more politicians will take over the role of the mafia. " Pakur SP Amarnath Khanna corroborates Chatterjee's contention. "Sister Valsa was killed because a group wanted control over illegal coal mining in Pakur district, " he says.
A K Shrivastava, additional director, income-tax (investigation), confirms that people with political connections are involved in the illegal mining business. "We have recently raided many places within and outside Jharkhand in connection with the illegal coal business, which were managed by politicians, " says Shrivastava, who led the nationwide raids against former chief minister Madhu Koda.
A former chairman-cum-managing director of a public sector coal company says there are around one lakh trucks involved in the transportation of coal in the state. Their owners have to pay money to the mafia in order to operate. "By a conservative estimate, the collection from one truck is Rs 1, 000 per month. The money is distributed not only among politicians and the police but also administrative officers and top bosses of the coal companies. The total money involved is Rs 10 crore. Apart from this, the mining dons make huge money from illegal mining from which they again earn around Rs 500 per tonne. The total business is worth around Rs 15 crore to Rs 20 crore per month," he says.
Former MLA Jaleshwar Mahato, who was defeated by Dhulu Mahato in the last elections, says he has written to chief minister Arjun Munda to request him to take action against the coal mafia of Dhanbad. "If these people are not stopped, they will sell Jharkhand, " he avers.
The fact that ministers and legislators may be involved in illegal mining of iron, coal and bauxite is now being accepted by not only those in the business but also the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate. "Over the last decade, politicians have started using their influence to make a fortune both in mining and transportation of minerals. It was because of Koda's influence that officers of the mining and transport department never dared to check trucks carrying illegal iron ore, " says a senior CBI officer who is supervising the iron ore mining scam involving the former chief minister, estimated to be worth around Rs 4, 000 crore.
A Jharkhand cadre IPS officer says that the raids by the CBI and I-T department have also removed any doubts about the link between politicians and illegal mining. "Now that the income tax department has seized around Rs 100 crore from B L Singh, a contractor of Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL), Dhanbad, and an associate of BJP MLA Kunti Singh, the role of politicians as coal mafia dons has been corroborated, " the officer adds. Kunti Singh is the wife of Suraj Deo Singh, one of the first coal dons in the state.
But Dhulu Mahato has a different take on the issue. "The cases are still under investigation and till the time the case is proved in court no one should brand me as coal mafia, " says the legislator. There are allegations that he controls more than 50 per cent of the illegal coal transportation business in Dhanbad.
An IPS officer, who has had postings in some of the coal mining districts, alleges that some ministers in chief minister Arjun Munda's cabinet too are behind illegal coal mining. "There is evidence that some ministers are playing godfather to illegal coal miners and using their influence to save them from the police, " he says.
THE RISE OF THE MINING MAFIA
The entry of criminals in Jharkhand's mining trade began in the late 1950s when the mines - especially coal mines - were controlled by private parties. Since most of the miners came from north Bihar and western Uttar Pradesh, and the mine owners were from Gujarat and Rajasthan, they started using goons to control their workers. In 1957-58, BP Sinha emerged as the leader of coal workers.
"When Sinha saw that coal workers started ignoring him he brought in Suraj Deo Singh, one of his trusted aides, from Ballia in western Uttar Pradesh. This was the point when the criminalisation of mining happened. In a couple of years, Singh realised that instead of working for Sinha he should work for himself. He bought 10 dumpers and entered into the illegal mining business. It is said that by 1975 he was worth at least Rs 50 crore, " says a retired officer of Bharat Coking Coal Limited who worked in Dhanbad and has seen the rise of Suraj Deo Singh.
Later, Suraj Deo Singh realised that if he was to continue in the business, he would have to join politics. Since he was from the native place of former PM Chandrashekar, he was able to develop political contacts too. "In 1977, he contested on a Janata Party ticket from the Jharia assembly seat and won. There was no looking back. Once he claimed that he has so much money he could even feed a state for an entire month, " says the retired officer.
Suraj Deo Singh was the undisputed don of the mining world. He died in June 1991. After the death of Singh, people started taking advantage of differences within his family. The difference between Kunti Singh, BJP MLA and widow of Suraj Deo Singh, and his three brothers - Baccha Singh, Rajan Singh and Ram Dhani Singh - gave others an opportunity to make space for themselves.
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