October 21: There are two Indias – the India of the powerful, privileged classes and the India of the masses. The powerful have good jobs and enviable lifestyles while the masses are precariously perched on the brink of survival. A large proportion of the masses lives in villages, which, as Mahatma Gandhi said long ago, is where the real India lives. Ill-fed, ill-clothed and ill-educated.

Time and again, this real India finds itself being taken for a ride. Last week we wrote about the villagers in Maharashtra who were promised jobs by the state government 25 years ago, and are still waiting.

This week, a report in ‘The Indian Express’ highlights how easily the tribals of villages near Shivpuri, are manipulated by the rich and the powerful of the region.

Shivpuri, a region rich in sandstone mine deposits, is located in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. It is well known for its sandstone mining business, for the Shivpuri sandstone is a big favourite in Saudi Arabia and coastal countries. There is a reason for it: the white or grey-pink or red sandstone does not get damaged by salt water.

Duped Again
Duped Again [Illustration by Sudheer Nath]
The Madhya Pradesh government gives preference to Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST) and the backward castes (BC) while leasing out areas for mining in the region so that they get some returns from the mining activities that are conducted in their area.

In order to protect the interests of the totally ignored and neglected tribal communities in the country, the Constitution of India has laid down that any mining activity in areas inhabited by the tribals must give some proportion of the profit to them.

But, unfortunately, this move has ended up like so many of the government’s well meaning but ineffectual gestures. In fact it has been used by the rich to become richer.

It is all very simple. They manipulate the process in such a way that initially it is individuals from the scheduled castes, tribes or backward castes from their village who get the lease.

Once the lease is granted, they take a power of attorney from the leaseholder, which means that they are allowed to run the mine on behalf of the leaseholder.

This, in turn, means that they are in a perfect position to control and pocket profits running to millions of rupees from the mine, while the lease owners remain in a state of abject poverty.

So the Shivpuri tribals are in a quaint situation. They are millionaires on paper, but paupers in reality. Take the case of Achche Lal Adivasi, a tribal owner of a five-hectare sandstone mine.

There are papers recording the huge payment of Rs. 40 lakh royalty that he paid to the Shivpuri collectorate for the year 1998-99 after becoming a leaseholder. But his family does not get even two square meals a day.

Despite having a mine to his name, Achche Lal derives no income from it. A senior political leader runs his mine and pockets his money. And he, the real owner, is busy looking for a job.

There are many others like him in the region. Akhilesh Srivastava, Additional Collector of Shivpuri and also in charge of mining, knows about this unscrupulous practice. But he cannot do anything about it.

“We have no irrefutable evidence,” he states in the report. “The tribals themselves are not only uneducated but also scared. They are scared that if they go to the authorities, their lease might be cancelled and they will not even get food to eat. Mining activity is the main source of livelihood in the region. They are happy to be making whatever money they can,” he adds.

So the duping of the real India continues.