The vans had been groaning with the burden of sand that excavators had loaded onto these, because the automobiles made the troublesome climb from the banks of the Brahmani river to a high-metalled street.
The truck drivers pays ‘hafta’ (bribe) to native leaders and the administration, the quantity of which is predicated on the burden these heavy items automobiles carry earlier than rushing away to development websites in Bengal and neighbouring states.
Welcome to Birbhum’s world of illegal sand mining, which has spawned rivalry, homicide, a tradition of adversaries storing weapons and illegally manufactured bombs, and of course, corruption.
The newest sufferer of this was native TMC strongman Bhadu Sheikh, who was killed allegedly for his unwillingness to share the spoils that the excavators had been citing from the river beds. Eight folks, together with girls and youngsters, had been burnt to loss of life in a suspected revenge assault.
“Illegal sand-mining has been flourishing under the patronage of powerful people since a long time. For the local mafia and the powers that be, it’s a team game,” mentioned Krishnapada Pal, an area who lives close to the Baidhara bridge on Brahmani river, round 15 km from Rampurhat city.
Some 80 illegal sand mines are scattered alongside the Mayurakshi, Ajay and Brahmani rivers within the district, from the place native toughs function with the backing of influential strongmen.
Along with illegal sand mining, the opposite illicit business in Birbhum famed for the Visva-Bharati arrange by Nobel laureate Rabindra Nath Tagore, is quarrying for stones.
The crimson stony soil of the realm that has produced artists like Ram Kinkar Baij, whose statues adorn the gates of Delhi’s Reserve Bank of India, has additionally introduced forth a vicious mafia, which runs the dual illegal industries with a ruthless, iron grip.
According to Baneswar Ghosh, a retired authorities college trainer and resident of Kenduli, round 48 km from Rampurhat, the sample of illegal sand mining has modified from small scale “business” to a far bigger, extra organised affair through the years, as an actual property increase within the state and elsewhere led to heightened demand for sand.
“The smugglers’ raj started in a small way during the Congress rule in the 1970s and boomed during the Left Front’s tenure and now the TMC regime. Islets were systemically dug up. They have now exhausted sand in the islets and moved to mining along the banks of rivers (bali ghats),” Ghosh mentioned.
A lengthy queue of vans, laden with both sand or stone stand parked on the National Highway-14 en path to Brahmani, the place drivers might be seen paying money to a bunch of folks.
“This is nothing but a ‘fee’ these transporters pay… We are giving them receipts for that. The charges vary depending on the size of the truck,” Angur Alam, in-charge of the unofficial “check-point”, instructed PTI.
Everyday, “permits” are given to over 700 vans “overloaded” with sand or stones to cross by the realm, he mentioned, including, every have to pay ₹2,200.
Sand is “smuggled” from these areas to North 24 Parganas, Durgapur and Asansol in Paschim Bardhaman district, and Behrampur in Murshidabad district in addition to to neighbouring Jharkhand and typically to Bihar, Alam mentioned.
As per the the West Bengal Minor Minerals Rules, 2002, “no mining operation shall be done within a distance of 5 km” of a river.
“Forget such rules. Those are for legal miners… here we have dreaded criminals backed by political heavyweights,” claimed BJP chief Subhasish Chowdhury.
He alleged that the majority of those that have been arrested, together with Anasur Hossain and Newton Sheikh on suspicion of being concerned both in Bhadu Sheikh’s homicide or the alleged revenge assault, had been engaged in illegal sand mining.
Chowdhury mentioned this illegal apply and racket of extorting money have aided the rise of folks, whose names now determine within the Birbhum tragedy.
When contacted, a senior official of the West Bengal Mineral Development and Trading Corporation Ltd (WBMDCL) instructed PTI that miners are given authorized permits to mine sand at recognized websites on a “first-come-first-serve basis”.
Local MLA Ashish Bandyopadhyay, however, rubbished allegations of rampant smuggling, and blamed the erstwhile Left Front government for such illegal practices in the region.
He said that soon after the Trinamool Congress came into power, the administration controlled and eradicated illicit sand and stone mining as well as its smuggling.
“Our administration has ended all such illegal smuggling, which was unrestrained during the Left rule. All these are false allegations of the opponents to malign the state,” Bandyopadhyay said.
The local police though feels that countering this culture will require a massive effort.
Incidentally, last year, the state police had set up a joint action team, with personnel from Purba and Paschim Bardhaman, Bankura, Birbhum, Purulia districts as well as from Hooghly to control and eradicate the menace.
“We ought to have specialised teams to handle these criminals. And, we have to be backed up by the administration when a crackdown occurs,” a police officer mentioned.