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Illegal Stone Mining Takes a Toll on People’s Lives and Livelihoods

Shivalaya Construction has illegally acquired 50 acres of land and is engaging in illegal stone mining in Gumla, Jharkhand. The community’s protests are being crushed by the state and the company.

The homes have cracks, the farms have stones and the children’s study time is drowned out by noise. The residents of Pakhnatoli in the Gumla district of Jharkhand are dealing with the spillovers of illegal stone mining in the area, all in the name of development.

“They are robbers who have come to loot us”, says one resident of the village, referring to Shivalaya Construction, the company which is engaged in illegal stone mining. Shivalaya Construction has acquired 50 acres of land  without getting approval from the gram sabha which is in defiance of the PESA Act. The PESA Act or the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act of 1996 protects the rights of indigenous communities; under the Act, projects in scheduled areas need to be approved by the gram sabhas or the local governing bodies. The illegal land acquirement has adversely affected the lives and livelihoods of 325 families.

“They are robbers who have come to loot us”

Holding a rock which landed on her roof from the mining site, a resident of Pakhnatoli shows the cracks that the houses have developed and adds that the company refused to pay for the damages. The story, other residents add, is bigger than that of Shivalaya Construction flouting the law and engaging in illegal mining. The company’s project is backed by government officials and the police and the latter has used violence to crush the protests. “The police came in 10 vehicles and beat us up and threatened us, one Ankit Goyal had bribed them to do so,” says one resident.

Men and women, young and old have been beaten up. The residents have also been made to sign bonds at the police station according to which they are not to carry out protests failing which a case will be slapped on them. Community Correspondent Shanti Baraik traces the later developments in the story and says that it cuts a sorry picture despite efforts by the community. “State inaction and the nexus between the state and the company is the problem,” Baraik points out. The community echoes the thought.

The illegal mining began in December 2016 and community sent reports and applications with signatures of all residents to the Department of Mines and Geology, to the Block Development Officer (BDO) and to the Deputy Commissioner in April 2017, but there has been no response so far. The state officials maintain that this is development for greater good and that the protests are a hindrance to development efforts. The owner of Shivalaya Construction, who Shanti Baraik met at a meeting that the village residents had called in March 2017, sought forgiveness from the village residents and made promises of getting their houses repaired. Baraik, however, says that there has been no effort towards this end even as the resistance is falling on deaf ears.

The story of illegal stone mining in Gumla is a story of a development that tramples upon the rights of people and uses money and muscle to suppress their voices.

Article by Alankrita Anand

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