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Coal lifters make a killing, cops ‘busy’

Ranigunj, May 20: By accident or design, illegal mining has got a boost in the coal belt because of the polls.

Burdwan police have suspended raids on the mafia citing their preoccupation with the polls and local CPM leaders, usually vocal against the illegal lifting, have fallen silent. All this since the elections were announced a couple of months ago.

Ranigunj and Jamuria, which are dotted with mines, are among the municipalities going to polls on Sunday.

Sources in the CPM said police were urged “not to disturb the poor villagers who lift coal to sustain their families” till the polls were over.

Opposition parties alleged that the party actually tried to shield racketeers engaged in coal smuggling.

Superintendent of police N.K. Singh admitted that there “might have been some slowdown” in the raids because of the polls. “Around this time, we have to deal with other law and order problems. Naturally, it is not possible for us to conduct regular raids on coal smugglers,” Singh said.

A meeting at Writers’ Buildings earlier this month, attended by industries minister Nirupam Sen, small-scale industries minister Bansagopal Chowdhury, Asansol MP Bikash Chowdhury, Singh and the Bankura police chief, had recommended strong steps against illegal mining and coal lifting. But not a single raid has been conducted since April 1.

Local CPM leaders denied “any nexus” with the coal lifters and described illegal mining as “a traditional problem”.

Tapas Kabi, the chairman of the CPM-controlled Jamuria municipality, said: “Poor villagers dig out coal from ECL’s (Eastern Coalfield Ltd’s) abandoned mines. Sometimes people die as the mines collapse. What can we do' We have not been able to provide jobs to them. We don’t understand why everyone points fingers at us. Supporters of other political parties are also engaged in coal smuggling. We have not directed the police to stop raids.”

The party has already won five seats uncontested.

Chowdhury, also the CPM legislator from Ranigunj, claimed that the raids were on. “The police have been asked to conduct raids regularly. The allegations are baseless.”

However, police records suggested something else (see box). The inaction since April stood in sharp contrast to the first quarter of 2005, during which a hundred coal thieves, including wanted smuggler Rashid Khan, were held and 20 trucks and 600 tonnes of coal seized. Coal worth about Rs 30 crore is smuggled out of the region every year.

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