The Sunday Guardian - - THE BIG STORY - CON­TIN­UED FROM P3

APradesh boasted that the sand mafia had been ex­pelled from its main bas­tions in the states. But the in­dict­ments tell a dif­fer­ent tale—most al­lege that bu­reau­cracy in both states worked be­hind cor­rupt deal­ers and their band of badass truck­ers. And help­ing the cor­rupt do their work silently was Chan­drakala and her of­fi­cers.

The CBI says Chan­drakala helped more than 50 sand traders ac­quire li­cence through il­le­gal means. The al­leged scam dates back to 2012-16 when the Sa­ma­jwadi Party was in power un­der Akhilesh Ya­dav. The for­mer UP CM, who is ex­pect­ing to play a lead role in a post-poll gov­ern­ment, claims that the CBI is act­ing out of po­lit­i­cal mo­tives.

Sand min­ing brings in tremen­dous prof­its. Con­trac­tors take per­mit for one truck­load of sand then bring ten trucks on that one sin­gle per­mit. Many politi­cians, bu­reau­crats and po­lice of­fi­cers are in­volved in this and there is a lot of money at stake. As a re­sult, there is no one who is able to put a stop to these ac­tiv­i­ties. It as­sumes gar­gan­tuan pro­por­tions be­fore mon­soon be­cause swollen rivers make ex­trac­tion ex­tremely dif­fi­cult dur­ing the rainy sea­son. Hence, mine own­ers and hoarders try to dig out as much sand as pos­si­ble, mostly through il­le­gal means, in the pre-mon­soon months.

Not un­usu­ally, the min­ing mafia is ca­pa­ble of ex­treme vi­o­lence, es­pe­cially so in states like UP, Mad­hya Pradesh and Bi­har. Hun­dreds have been killed ev­ery year in turf wars be­tween dif­fer­ent crim­i­nal gangs in the past five years be­cause the stakes are high. Last year, the Congress gov­ern­ment in Pun­jab found it­self in the mid­dle of a multi-crore ru­pee scam when the state Power and Ir­ri­gation Min­is­ter, Rana Gur­jit Singh al­legedly granted min­ing leases to his ac­quain­tances, in­clud­ing his for­mer cook, Amit Ba­hadur. In an­other case from UP, Nis­hank Tri­pathi, son of sit­ting Bharatiya Janata Party leg­is­la­tor Sub­hash Tri­pathi of Payag­pur con­stituency in Bahraich, was ac­cused of bury­ing two chil­dren alive while il­le­gally min­ing sand. In UP, the busi­ness is worth a whop­ping Rs 10,000 crore. Worse, the state gov­ern­ment does not even earn even 10% of it. Ex­pect­edly, ev­ery­one was alarmed when the CBI con­ducted raids at sev­eral lo­ca­tions in UP and Delhi in con­nec­tion with the il­le­gal sand min­ing, the fourth most mined mi­nor min­eral as per data from Bureau of Mines.

It is not im­me­di­ately known how much cash she is charged as hav­ing earned through il­le­gal means; the CBI of­fi­cers are check­ing de­tails of her bank ac­counts, and that of her fam­ily mem­bers, in­clud­ing Chan­drakala’s mother, B. Lak­shmi, an en­tre­pre­neur. They say there are chances that some cash may have landed in the mother’s kitty, and also in the ac­counts of Chan­drakala’s sis­ter, who ran a beauty par­lour in Ra­m­a­gun­dam in Te­lan­gana, claim CBI sources. CBI of­fi­cials have in­di­cated that they would be in­ter­ro­gat­ing her father as well; B. Kr­ish­nan re­tired as a se­nior tech­ni­cian from the state-owned Fer­tiliser Cor­po­ra­tion of India (FCI).

But the CBI spot­light re­mains on Chan­drakala. The 2008-batch IAS of­fi­cer, now on study leave, worked in a very in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic style. CBI of­fi­cials, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity, say Chan­drakala would clear high­way projects and then land up on the spot to su­per­vise. On most oc­ca­sions, she found con­trac­tors had not used the stan­dard ma­te­rial for lay­ing roads; she threat­ened to sack them, put them on the black­list. There are widely-cir­cu­lated videos in which she is seen on sur­prise in­spec­tions dur­ing her stint as the dis­trict mag­is­trate of Bu­land­shahr, pulling up civic of­fi­cials over lack of qual­ity in build­ing ma­te­rial or poor san­i­ta­tion. Was this a smoke­screen? Po­lice say that once the in­spec­tion was done, her co­terie al­legedly called con­trac­tors and de­manded cash to set­tle the dust. As a re­sult, the CBI found a large num­ber of con­trac­tors con­tin­ued to op­er­ate de­spite com­plet­ing con­tracts with sub­stan­dard ma­te­rial. This is a charge and the CBI of­fi­cers are con­fi­dent of prov­ing it in the courts, not­with­stand­ing claims by for­mer UP Chief Min­is­ter Akhilesh Singh Ya­dav that the raids were po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated.

The IAS of­fi­cer started in­ter­act­ing with the sand mafia dur­ing her stint as the Dis­trict Mag­is­trate of Hamir­pur. What is in­ter­est­ing is that while the av­er­age ten­ure of a DM in Hamir­pur was for a year, Chan­drakala re­mained for three years from 2012 to 2015. And even­tu­ally, she was shunted out of the dis­trict amid al­le­ga­tions of il­le­gal min­ing un­der her watch by a min­ing syn­di­cate al­legedly headed by a pow­er­ful Sa­ma­jwadi Party leg­is­la­tor, Ramesh Mishra. The MLA could walk in and out of her res­i­dence with­out ap­point­ments, and it was the leg­is­la­tor who slowly used the IAS of­fi­cer to spread his min­ing drag­net. Re­al­is­ing her Hamir­pur stint could stain her ca­reer record, Chan­drakala qui­etly worked on an im­age makeover. She had been picked up by the NDA gov­ern­ment as di­rec­tor of Swachh Bharat Mission un­der the Union Min­istry of Drink­ing Wa­ter and San­i­ta­tion in 2017. Even­tu­ally, she was repa­tri­ated to her par­ent cadre and posted as Sec­re­tary, Mad­hyamik Shik­sha Vib­hag.

Vi­jay Trivedi, on whose PIL the Al­la­habad High Court or­dered a CBI in­quiry, al­leged, Chan­drakala was known as a very pow­er­ful bu­reau­crat who did ev­ery­thing to help the min­ing mafia in the crim­i­nally sen­si­tive dis­trict. Trivedi high­lighted two as­pects in his Pil—is­suance of 41 leases of mines and un­abated il­le­gal min­ing. The leases, fol­low­ing the CBI in­quiry, were found to be issued against rules, and in many cases, du­bi­ous means were em­ployed to issue the leases. “The High Court quashed the leases, and im­me­di­ately or­dered a CBI in­quiry,” Trivedi said in a tele­phonic in­ter­view.

Around the time the CBI was called in, the then ADM, Ramesh Pra­jap­ati filed an af­fi­davit in the court claim­ing no il­le­gal min­ing ever took place in the dis­trict. Pra­jap­ati had filed the af­fi­davit on be­half of the DM, SP and Min­ing Of­fi­cer, all asked by the court to do so. But within days after the af­fi­davit was filed, Trivedi sub­mit­ted ev­i­dences that Rs 75 lakh were de­posited as fine levied by the ad­min­is­tra­tion on a per­son for il­le­gal min­ing. The lo­cal ad­min­is­tra­tion was found col­lect­ing Rs 19 lakh as fine for con­fis­cat­ing trucks il­le­gally trans­port­ing red sand.

Even­tu­ally, the CBI was able to es­tab­lish a money trail al­legedly lead­ing to Chan­drakala, prov­ing her al­leged as­so­ci­a­tion with the min­ing mafia. More in­ter­est­ing de­tails started sur­fac­ing once the CBI took over: in one case it was con­clu­sively proved that days be­fore a hand­ful of mines were leased out to a mem­ber of a min­ing syn­di­cate, a large chunk of cash was trans­ferred to an ac­count in the State Bank of India which be­longed to a rel­a­tive of Chan­drakala. “She was in­creas­ingly get­ting into trou­ble.”

In UP, CBI claims, Chan­drakala fully ex­ploited the loop­holes in the state gov­ern­ment rules. Strangely, the state gov­ern­ment—un­der new rules—banned sand min­ing across the state for July, Au­gust and Septem­ber but, at the same time, issued 200 leases to al­low min­ing in all dis­tricts for six months. Now, if there is no min­ing, there is acute short­age of sand and prices go high. Sand, nor­mally sold for around Rs 5,000 per 10 cu­bic feet (1 cu­bic feet equals 0.3 cu­bic me­tres), can reach right up to Rs 10,000 per 10 cu­bic feet.

And it is here the mafia moves in with tremen­dous ease. Ev­ery day, thou­sands of trucks travel across the sand mines in Ut­tar Pradesh to col­lect sand. The cops, who are meant to over­see the process, re­main silent be­cause of ob­vi­ous rea­sons.

Chan­drakala was a very pow­er­ful of­fi­cer. She knew sand is im­por­tant for con­struc­tion ac­tiv­i­ties. In a rapidly ur­ban­is­ing India, the de­mand of sand—knew Chan­drakala—will rise, rise and rise be­cause sand is the main in­gre­di­ent in mak­ing con­crete and ce­ment. Gov­ern­ment schemes like Swachh Bharat Mission—of which she was an in­te­gral part—and Hous­ing for All by 2022, are likely to cause a resur­gence. The de­mand for sand in India will be 1,430 mil­lion tonnes by 2020, Chan­drakala knew it very well.

She is claimed to have pushed her agenda through the roof.

Chan­drakala is not talk­ing, her hand­set is switched off. She has not even told her fam­ily mem­bers what she is busy with dur­ing her much­pub­li­cised study leave. Shantanu Guha Ray is Spe­cial Edi­tor, In­ves­ti­ga­tions, at BTVI, a busi­ness chan­nel.

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