An abandoned pit in Bokaro Thermal and (right) sacks of illegal coal being ferried on a motorbike. Pictures by Pankaj Singh
It’s no secret that illegal mining is rampant in the Coal Belt, but what is alarming is that the state administration has miserably failed to check the crime that causes irreparable economic losses to the government despite several warnings by the Intelligence Bureau (IB).
The IB sent three reports to the state headquarters in Ranchi and the Union home ministry in New Delhi — the latest one arrived a few days ago — pinpointing more than 22 spots in Bermo subdivision and 13 in Chas subdivision, both in Bokaro district, where illegal coal mining is continuing unchecked.
Coal Belt IG Laxman Singh also swung into action, seeking lists of these vulnerable places from general managers of all coal companies so that he could sent special task forces to plug the illegal mines, but is yet to get any response till now.
Highly placed sources in the district administration and police department said that it was next to impossible to stop illegal mining given the magnitude of the racket that involves everyone starting from politicians and policemen to mafia and Maoists. Two well-connected politicians are said to be monitoring the illegal trade in Bermo.
In such a scenario, the officers-in-charge (OCs) of the respective police stations, who have been asked by the IG and Bokaro SP to crack down on the coal mafia, are either too scared to act or turn a blind eye after pocketing hefty cash.
“I have again shot off letters to general managers of all coal companies, asking them to submit reports of the places where illegal coal mining is on. I will send special task force to plug in such mines. And if any illegal mine is still found operational, the OC concerned will be suspended,” he said.
There a few exceptions though like the young and dynamic Bermo SDO Rahul Kumar Sinha, who, over the past few days, raided several spots in the district and seized more than 3,000 metric tonnes of coal worth several crores.
“Whenever I get a tip-off, be it in the morning or late in the night, I don’t hesitate to go out. I call up the local police station and conduct raids, which have yielded several crores of illegal coal. This clearly shows that illegal coal mining and coal smuggling are continuing unabated in Bermo with connivance of influential people whom I don’t want to name,” Sinha told The Telegraph.
IB sources said that once the Lok Sabha elections were announced, the illegal coal business picked up pace in Nawadih, Gomia, Petarwar, Chandrapura, Bermo and Chandankyari blocks with policemen being taken away for poll duty.
“More than 5,000 cycles and 500 motorcycles were pressed into service to ferry illegal coal to jungle areas,” an officer said.
A visit to these places only confirmed the IB’s findings.
Illegal mining starts after sundown as police avoid treading into the jungles in the dark. Coal is extracted from abandoned mines for the next eight to 10 hours, collected in sacks and stacked in nearby jungles.
Before dawn breaks, the sacks are ferried by tractors, motorcycles, cycles into Maoist bastions.
At night, the illegally mined coal is smuggled out through trucks.
“Before illegal mining starts in any zone, everyone right from the OC of the local police station to his senior are paid from Rs 20,000 to Rs 50,000 per month so that they keep shut. Maoists fix their own cut on the basis of tonnes to be smuggled,” an IB officer said on the condition of anonymity.
Agreed CBI joint director Anil Palta, who was earlier posted as Bokaro SP and Coal Belt DIG.
“Journalists, Maoists, policemen, leaders of political parties, coal company officers — all make big money out of this illegal trade. It is known to all. The rebels take tenders to ferry coal under their supervision and protection. The booty is kept in jungle hideouts and after sundown, dispatched to fixed destinations,” Palta said.
When contacted, Bokaro SP Jitendra Singh said he had also received information about increased illegal coal mining in the district of late and had given strict instruction to all OCs to get cracking. “We will not spare the OCs if they sit idle and don’t take necessary action,” he warned.