UP: Sand in the Mouth
Armed criminals and gangsters, greedy real estate agents, powerful politicians, corrupt locals, and miscellaneous shady lobbies work in open synthesis with the ‘sand mafia’ a stone’s throw away from the capital
Sadiq Naqvi Noida (UP)
In Garbhara village, the contradictions are stark. They seem to hit you in the face. Swanky SUVs dot the roads and driveways of palatial houses where elders while away time smoking hookkahs on the charpoys. On the periphery of the sleepy village huge glass structures house big companies seemingly flush with wealth. “They made it big when the government acquired land,” says Harish, a local. “They are earning even more after the notorious sand mafia landed here. People have splurged on cars and big houses. Some are now finding it hard to repay the money they had borrowed from the banks. The gram pradhan’s car was recently taken away by the finance company after he defaulted.” He points to his own house --- there are two expensive cars parked next to it.
Situated adjacent to the new Gautam Buddha University in Noida, a few notches away from the Yamuna Expressway, it is mainly inhabited by Gujjars with Brahmins, Muslims and Dalits constituting the other communities. It falls in the middle of the illegal sand mining belt which spans Raipur Khadar to Jhuppa village, encompassing an area of almost 100 sq km.
The ‘sand mafia’ issue shot into prominance after the suspension of IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal, the Sub Divisional Magistrate (SDM), whose strict action against illegal sand mining had unnerved the local power centres and criminal groups. This story of illegal mining a stone’s throw away from the national capital mirrors the manner in which the mafiosi with powerful connections operate and how criminals are entwined with brazenly corrupt political parties and politicians who offer them protection and patronage.
Locals say that almost 50 per cent of village households are involved in sand mining and allied activities. “We know it is illegal. But it is a good way of making money,” said a tea-shop owner. Interestingly, tractor trolleys are seen outside every house. “These trolleys are an important asset. They are used in the supply of sand,” he explained.
With political protection coming easy, the mafia has not spared even senior government officials. In 2010, Vishal Singh, SDM, Noida, had a lucky escape when his team was fired upon by goons of the sand mafia. Not long ago, mining department inspector Ashish Kumar managed to escape after criminals involved in mining shot at him
‘River’ Yamuna is a couple of kilometres away from the village. The river itself has been turned into a filthy, poisonous, toxic drain in Delhi and beyond. Dotted with affluent, ostentatious farmhouses on the flood plains, the muddy route with two feet water logged at several places shows signs of relentless activity. The entire path over agricultural land has been devastated by dumpers and tractors, routinely used in mining operations.
“It happens only in the night now,” says Bunty (name changed), a local who works as a caretaker in one of the farmhouses adjoining the riverbed. People narrate how sand mining has ravaged their land. “We can’t do anything. These are powerful people,” a local says, showing the deep ditches that have cropped up all over because of excessive mining. He explained how armed, gun-toting men supervize the loading of dumpers while JCBs carry out the ‘excavations’ at tremendous speed.
“You can’t say a word against them. They are dangerous criminals with sophisticated arms,” says Bunty. He recounted a chilly incident: a dumper owner from Mewat was shot point-blank by the mafia when he jokingly asked them if they ever used the arms they were carrying. “That man was openly murdered in cold blood — for no rhyme or reason. And nothing really happened. A compromise was reached after the victim’s family got some money.”
A solitary hut on the river bank is often used by the sand mafia. The police maintain a tacit distance. “They never come to this part,” Jitender, a villager, informed.
With political protection coming easy, the mafia has not spared even senior government officials. In 2010, Vishal Singh, SDM, Noida, had a lucky escape when his team was fired upon by goons of the sand mafia. Not long ago, mining department inspector Ashish Kumar managed to escape after criminals involved in mining shot at him.
“We had received a tip-off that these criminals had built a temporary bridge across the Yamuna to facilitate transportation of sand to Haryana which is on the other side of the river. I went there with a team of four people. We seized the JCB and other equipment. But when we tried to nab the criminals, they opened fire on us,” Vishal Singh, now SDM, Meerut, recounts.
Locals say Brijanand, the main ‘don’ behind the operations in the area, who hails from Haryana on the other side of the river, is directly involved in all these incidents. “We had approached officials in Haryana for help to stall the mining. But no help was forthcoming,” says Singh.
“Brijanand has several people working for him from within the village who are involved in these incidents,” says a local. The firing incident was hushed up and Singh says that he can’t recall if the police even filed an FIR.