On December 1, 2021, a bench of the Rajasthan High Court comprising Chief Justice Akil Qureshi and justice Sudesh Bansal ordered that notices be sent to the state government over rampant illegal mining of stone in the Thob village of Barmer district in Rajasthan. Over 20 letters have been written to local police, officials of the district administration and the state mining department by villagers since August 2021. There were four stone crushers illegally at work in the village, and the mining activity was conducted using dynamite to blast through the hills.
“Despite the numerous representations by residents, authorities ignored the illegal activity,” said Sumer Lal Sharma, a resident of Barmer who frequently files Right to Information applications to uncover details of government functioning. The gram panchayat of Thob took up the issue in September this year, and sought action from the officials concerned.
The villagers demand that the illegal activity should be halted – losses already borne by the villagers as their homes have developed cracks with the blasting of dynamite must be compensated. The deep gorges left behind by the mining must be leveled. Water sources have been affected by the largescale illegal mining, and farmers need compensation. The local government school has been ruined. Villagers have demanded that the loss to the state exchequer on account of royalty not paid, and penalties for taxes evaded must be imposed on the illegal miners, who have been carting out the stone in large trucks.
Rajasthan is the state with the largest number of mines in India; yet there are only 146 mining engineers and 114 geo-scientists on the rolls of the state government, according to the website of the department of mines. There are over 30,000 mining leases granted in the state, which makes it impossible for the small number of technical staff to monitor all mining activity.
Rana Sengupta, who works with the NGO Mine Labour Protection Campaign in Jodhpur, has long advocated for greater say for local government in mining. A share should be given to local people and the mining labourers in the allocation of mines, he says.
Sengupta has been pointing out the need for changes in law too, to hold the state government accountable — under the law, the Centre is responsible for labourers engaged in mining, even as the state is empowered to grant mining leases. This division of responsibility makes coordination hard, to the detriment of labourers and the environment.
The High Court has sought a response from the Barmer district collector, the superintendent of police of the district and mining officials by December 15.
Rosamma Thomas is a freelance journalist