Thousands of daily wage labourers and semi skilled workers have been rendered jobless and are fighting for survival in Bihar for the past three months thanks to a deliberately created ‘sand crisis’ after the new NDA government (JD-U and BJP government) led by Nitish Kumar initiated large scale action against rampant illegal sand mining, controlled by ‘balu (sand)-mafia’. While illegal sand mining needs to be curbed because it has caused severe damage to river channels, besides depriving the govt. of revenues, the perception growing in Bihar is that this drive has been motivated more by political rivalry than genuine concerns. Political observers feel that the Nitish Kumar govt. at the behest of BJP’s central command is turning the drive into a witch-hunt of Lalu Yadav’s supporters who have undoubtedly been involved in this business. But whatever be the case, it has driven thousands of very poor labourers to the brink of starvation.
After the National Green Tribunal's order of suspending sand mining activities during the monsoon season ended on September 30, the state government had given clearance to sand mining in 10 districts but it did not include Patna, Bhojpur, Vaishali and Saran that account for over 50% sand mining in Bihar. Before the sand crisis, a tractor of sand was available in the market at Rs 2800 to Rs 3000, but now it is selling at Rs 8000, that too in black market.
Bihar deputy chief minister and senior BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi has repeatedly alleged close link of sand mafia with Lalu and his family without any solid evidences. But commentators point out that a well known sand mafia leader Subhash Yadav enjoyed political patronage from 2005 to 2013 when BJP along with JD-U was running the government in Bihar. Lalu Yadav has also alleged that Subhash Yadav got license for mining in 2011 when Nitish Kumar was chief minister. Even some known upper caste criminals turned politicians who manage illegal sand mining in Patna, Vaishali, Saran and other districts, are close to BJP and JD-U.
”Sushil Modi has convinced Nitish Kumar with blessings from the top BJP leadership in Delhi to target Lalu and his family by initiating a crackdown against illegal sand mining, mostly managed by Lalu’s caste men –Yadavs and some Muslims, who are also considered loyal to his brand of politics and known as close to RJD. But Modi has forgotten that political vendetta will hit hard thousands of labourers engaged in construction sector to sand mining across the state,” a political analyst said.
According to a police report submitted to the Patna high court in April this year, sand mafia is a huge nexus between the local police, sand miners enjoying political clout and officials of the mines department. It further pointed out violations made by sand mining companies that were given sand mining leases, particularly in Patna. “A perfect collusion and complete connivance of state government officials, particularly those from the police, mining and transport department ….. the rules and laws on mining and environment are merely reduced to paper…..” it said.
But labourers are the hapless victims of this political slugfest. A group of labourers at Jagdeo Path in Patna in one voice said, “Lalu nahi to balu nahi, jab Lalu ayega to balu ayega” (No Lalu, no sand; when Lalu comes, sand will come).
Kunal Paswan and Rajdeo Prasad, both daily wage labourer, are cursing the new NDA government led by Nitish Kumar in Bihar for not doing anything to end the over three months old ‘sand crisis’ in the state, as it has been proving more horrible than notebandi and GST for them. Paswan and Prasad are two of thousands of labourers rendered jobless across the state due to sand crisis.
“Sand crisis has badly hit not hundreds or thousands but lakhs of poor daily wage labourers, who used to earn their livelihood by their hard work for 6 to 7 hours. We are ready to work but no one hire us as sand is missing due to wrong policy of the state government,” said Paswan, in his mid 20s, standing along with nearly three dozen labourers at Khoja Imli in Patna.
Paswan narrated his personal pain by saying that every day early morning he and others like him gather at Khoja Imli in search of work. But most of them return disappointed after waiting for four to five hours in hope of work. Demand of labourers have come down to 10 to 15 percent as construction works are at a standstill for months in view of sand crisis.
Prasad said that these days hardly 50 to 75 labourers gather in search of work. Before the crisis, 200 to 250 labourers used to gather daily .
“Only local labourers from nearby villages like me are coming here in search of work. Most of the labourers from far away districts such as Bhagalpur, Banka , Araria, Kishanganj and Purnea have returned to their native places or gone to other states in search of livelihood,” he said.
It is not only labourers, but semi or skilled workers including masons, painters, carpenters that are also facing problems.
“Due to lack of sand, there is no work for us. We are struggling for survival and trying to meet the demand of hunger of my family” Rajesh Choudhary,a mason ,said.
His views were echoed by a painter Mohd Akbar. “Paint work is closely connected with construction work, if there is little work available in construction sector, painters like me get affected.”
Like Khoja Imli, hopeless labourers sitting and standing for hours at Ishopur pul, Chitkohra pul, Beur Morh, Hartalimod, Boring Road to Ashaina Road, have more or less similar stories to share.
“I have spent three months at my native village in Banka after I was informed about sand crisis. Now I am back here in search of work but situation is very bad. I am without work for four days, hope to get work tomorrow,” said Shasmshad Ansari, sitting near Ishopur pul along with dozens of labourers in search of work.
”Balu ka kami see majdoor ke pet par maar hai” (sand shortage has directly hit us labourers). Now we are ready to work for as low as Rs 200 to Rs 250 per day ,about Rs 100 less than our normal wage because we have to survive. I have to pay a monthly rent of Rs 500 and daily expenditure on food as I am away from my home,” said another labourer Prabhu Yadav, resident of Bhagalpur.
Another petty contractor Nawab Shaikh, who is from Maldah district in West Bengal, revealed that most of the Bengali masons and labourers have been forced to stay back at their respective villages for over three months after they were forced to return following sand crisis in July this year.
“I spent nearly three months back at my village. People are eager for completion of their construction work but unavailability of sand is stumbling block. I was told by local people that sand may be available from next month,” he said.
Nawab said if there were 1000 Bengali masons and labourers from West Bengal engaged in construction work alone in Patna but today their number has reduced to 100 due to sand crisis
Sand crisis has also hit shops selling hardware, cement, iron rods, and other construction material.
“Most of the construction work has stopped and there is no demand either for cement, iron rods or hardware. All these items have close connection with sand. Scarcity of sand is such that our business has come down like never before,” said Pappu Kumar, who owns a shop selling cement and iron rods.
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