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Black Hills, Dark Shadow

Home to some of the rarest ecosystems and wildlife, its origins dating back to the Jurassic Age, the majestic Black Hills of Kutch are in da...

Written by Janyala Sreenivas | Ahmedabad |
April 3, 2005

Home to some of the rarest ecosystems and wildlife, its origins dating back to the Jurassic Age, the majestic Black Hills of Kutch are in danger.

A few days ago, police stumbled across a full-fledged illegal mining operation. They seized 121 trucks loaded with granite blasted only a few hours ago from the 460-metre-high treasure chest of sand and stone. Also seized were 51 trucks loaded with gravel and 37 trucks with sand dumped at various points in the nearby Dharamshala post-Vighakot area, roughly 90 km from Bhuj.

And that, investigators found, was only the tip of a shocking scandal.

They found that civil contractors had been blasting away deep inside the hills—part of it forms the Kutch Desert Wildlife Sanctuary—for granite and sand over the last two months.

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The illegal quarrying and mining, investigators say, had already eaten into the sanctuary that houses the world-famous Flamingo City and Chhari Dhundh lake, which supports at least 70 species of migratory birds, apart from the unique eco-system known as Banni grasslands.

All this, they found out, was happening in blatant violation of the law, without any permits or licences.

To top it all, the sand and stone from Black Hills was going into government roads and outposts being built by the Border Fencing Division of the Central Public Works Department (CPWD).

 
MINING DISASTER
   

A senior CPWD official told The Sunday Express that it was not the department’s ‘‘headache’’ where the raw material comes from. But bills submitted by the contractors show that Rs 10.36 crore worth of sand and stone had already been gouged out from the area.

A case has been registered against the contractors under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, Mines and Minerals Regulations and Development Act of 1957, Gujarat Mines and Minerals Rules 1966, IPC 379 and 120 B.

The FIR states: ‘‘Not only have they illegally entered and mined in the Black Hills but also plundered the flora and fauna there and caused untold destruction to the habitat.’’

Deputy Forest Officer D Khurawadia, in charge of the Black Hills area, told The Sunday Express: ‘‘The prime habitat of jackals, antelope, foxes and hare, besides desert flora and fauna, has been destroyed by these people.’’

The first signs of trouble were spotted two months ago, when local residents spotted convoys of trucks and tractor trolleys laden with rocks and sand streaming out from the foothills. But the Kutch District Revenue Department dismissed the sightings as ‘‘quarrying in revenue areas with permits’’.

And they sat back, till last week’s catch blew up in their faces.

Investigations have revealed that the granite was being supplied to two contractors— Ashok Doshi and Jivanram Chaudhray—who were given contracts to build roads near the border and construct pillars for border-fencing.

The FIR, lodged by Inspector D R Agravat of local crime branch, states that the contractors neither had any permit nor licence for mining in the Black Hills. And none of the drivers of the lorries that were seized had any identification papers or registration papers for the vehicles.

Kutch police have also detained a number of labourers who were blasting and breaking stones inside the Black Hills.

Inspector Agravat told The Sunday Express: ‘‘They said they were labourers working for Doshi and Chaudhray. Three persons have submitted statements saying that they were supplying metal, sand and gravel after illegally mining them from the Black Hills to Doshi and Chaudhray. They had no permit or licence.’’

Government geologist M V Mevada, who visited the site, admits that a large area of Black Hills has been mined for rock and sand from nearby areas illegally carted away. ‘‘To a casual visitor, the effect and loss may not be immediately visible. But we know the loss is irreparable,’’ says Mevada, who is also under fire for not having paid attention to reports of destruction in the hills that reached his office.

Deputy Conservator of Forests (Kutch), Dev Babu Ande admits that mining was done at the foothills. ‘‘The people doing it are dangerous and a few forest guards cannot tackle them. We could conduct the joint raid only with support from police,’’ said Ande.

Inspector Agravat says CPWD’s Border Fencing Division had awarded contracts to build border roads, buildings for outposts and pillars for wire-fences. That, say CPWD officials, was after it received a grant of Rs 65 crore to lay a 310-km-long stretch of road in the area, and other work.

‘‘The contracts were given mainly to Doshi and Chaudhray who sub-contracted it to several smaller contractors and suppliers. But all of them got raw material from the Black Hills without paying a paise while they earned several crores from the CPWD as cost of raw material,’’ says Agravat.

CPWD officials in Bhuj say they have launched an internal inquiry, though A L Garg, Chief Engineer (Gujarat border fencing), says it is not the department’s concern where the raw material comes from.

‘‘The raw material should meet quality standards. Where it comes from is not our headache. Still, when the Forest Department and police brought this to our notice, we told our contractors to pay royalty to government and stop supply from Black Hills,’’ says Garg.

The FIR states that the CPWD’s executive engineers R K Singhal, D K Ujjainia and Mathura Prasad were in charge of the zones where work was going on.

Besides Doshi and Chaudhray, the FIR also points the finger at other contractors: Shantilal Govind Sorathia, Gosairam Gordhanram, Karsanlal Thakkar of Saraswati Construction, Chuhtan Construction Company, K K Sorathia, Kathira Construction Company, Kunal Construction and Shreeji constructions.

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