Of cows and quarries : The Tribune India

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Of cows and quarries

Murders by sand-stealers lay bare criminalisation of politics at grassroots level

Of cows and quarries

Open loot: Every hillock and every riverbed offer infinite possibilities for corrupt politicians and bent cops. Tribune photo

Rajesh Ramachandran

The political economy of cow protection was all along a mystery. The activism that had led to the lynching of Muslim cattle traders in the Mewat-Alwar belt was mystifying for its socio-economic drivers. With the brazen murder of Deputy Superintendent of Police Surender Singh in Nuh district’s Tauru, the fog over the intersection of the politics and economy of cow protection is slowly getting lifted. Surender Singh was crushed under the wheels of a dumper in broad daylight in a hillock in Mewat when he tried to stop illegal mining. The cleaner of the dumper, Ikkar, was immediately arrested, and soon its driver Mittar too was caught. The speedy arrest of two Muslim hoodlums for the murder of an upright Hindu police officer has all the ingredients of a sensational sanskari case, shut even before it was opened.

Politicians have long looked at hills and rivers as perks of power, to be distributed to hangers-on as rewards for loyalty.

Yet, the many-layered case remains wide open because however convenient the two Meo Muslim assailants appear to be, there are bigger culprits behind this heinous murder. Ikkar and Mittar are merely two miserably poor local residents hired to drive dumpers from point A to point B. The real culprits are the ones who paid them and instructed them to carry illicit construction material from an illegal mining site to a stone-crusher unit nearby, and then to a construction site further away. The case cannot get closed unless the stone quarry operators and their beneficiaries are booked. And it is while looking at the owners of stone-crushing units that The Tribune stumbled on the economics of cow protection.

A former chairman of Haryana’s Gau Seva Aayog owns a stone-crushing unit in the Aravallis, a no-mining zone that has also seen many attacks in the name of cow protection. So, the cow-protectors seem to have gained the upper hand in terms of local politics, controlling the levers of its illicit economy. The subdued local population — the Ikkars and Mittars, terrorised over allegations of cow slaughter — has become handymen and henchmen of the cow-protectors-turned-businessmen. The trade had been going on unabated for decades, of course, with some local Meo Muslim politicians at the helm.

The issue at hand is not whether the Aravallis are being destroyed by Meo meat-eaters or vegetarians from outside, but how to stop illegal sand and stone quarrying in the mountain range. The Supreme Court had ordered a ban on quarrying in these hills in 2002, yet it remains the most lucrative business in this region, which can easily be blamed on the Ikkars and Mittars when they’re caught. In fact, Haryana Mines & Geology Minister Mool Chand Sharma finds nothing wrong in operating a stone-crusher in a no-mining zone.

Perhaps the Supreme Court would have to intervene again for the governments to understand that offering a licence to a stone-crusher in a no-quarrying area amounts to the legitimisation of possible illegitimate acts. For, a stone-crusher becomes economically viable when it is operating in and around a quarry, not hundreds of kilometres away from the mining site. So, it does not make any sense to have a stone-crusher in a place where quarrying is prohibited by an order of the court — it is akin to operating a timber mill in a protected forest or a shooting range in a wildlife sanctuary.

The whole blame for flattening the Aravallis cannot be apportioned to some cow-protectors-turned-businessmen. The stone-crusher operators cannot function with impunity without the local police facilitating the illicit trade. A truckload of stones on a main road cannot be made invisible and it cannot cross police checkposts without uniformed hands getting greased on the way. The checkposts often work as collection and facilitation posts for their efficiency in letting the business of stone quarrying go on without a hitch. And these greased hands are, in turn, offered greasy postings by their political masters for equally slimy considerations.

It is not just the Aravallis that are threatened — every hillock and every riverbed offer infinite possibilities for corrupt politicians and bent cops. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, the business of sand and gravel remains dirty, with only local variations. And interestingly, the political masters have never tried to make quarrying a transparent and respectable business. Take the example of the millennial city Gurgaon or Gurugram, where thousands of apartments and offices get built every year. This construction activity just cannot happen without sand and stones. And where would they come from but the nearest sources in the Gurugram-Alwar belt?

So, it makes immense sense for the governments of Haryana and Rajasthan to approach the Supreme Court to get portions or parcels of land de-notified in this region so that demarcated plots can be sold to the highest bidder for quarrying. Environment scientists, activists, politicians and bureaucrats can discuss the issue and decide the least eco-sensitive areas for commercial exploitation — and strict protection for the rest of the Aravallis. Such legitimate quarries, transparent practices and enterprising operators will put an end to retail corruption and illegal mining. On the other hand, a blanket ban all around the country’s hottest real estate markets can only invite illegal operators with political patronage.

Politicians have long looked at hills and rivers as perks of power, to be distributed to hangers-on as rewards or bonus points for loyalty. National parties should pause and ponder: Is this how they want to groom local leadership? Those who steal sand from riverbeds, making bridges wobbly, or blast mountain heads, causing landslides, will soon become legislators and parliamentarians and then ministers, big and mighty.

When national parties continue to wink at these thugs, they are actually criminalising the next generation of leaders. And this criminalisation of politics at the grassroots level is laid bare by daylight murders the sand-stealers commit. If top politicians believe that they control the sand-stealers, they are sadly mistaken; it is often truer the other way around because criminalisation of politics makes it easier for criminals to control politics.

#Mewat #Nuh

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