The sand mafia is the new Gabbar Singh in Madhya Pradesh's Chambal region, once the breeding ground of India's most dreaded dacoits.
And like the iconic villain in the cult Bollywood movie Sholay, the sand mafia fears none, strikes terror in the hearts of even law-enforcing agencies and ruthlessly eliminates anyone who raises even a murmur of dissent.
Now, the writ of the mafia has spread to anywhere in the state where a river flows and where there is sand to be dug and traded.
The murder of a police constable in Morena district, the headquarters of Chambal, last week has once again brought to focus the MP government's failure to clamp down on the illegal sand trade which has left many people dead besides causing loss estimated at crores of rupees to the exchequer.
Constable Dharmendra Singh Chauhan was crushed to death by a truck carrying illegally mined sand when he tried to stop the vehicle suspected to be operated by sand mafia.
The incident revived memories of the 2012 killing of IPS officer Narendra Kumar, who was also mowed down in Morena when he tried to stop a tractor carrying illegally mined stone.
Sources said that while sand mafia derives its power from its collusion with musclemen, local politicians and law-enforcers, it is mainly the ruthless attacks that have instilled fear amongst everyone.
The attacks are constant and take place throughout the year, they said.
In the years between IPS officer Narendra Kumar Singh's death and the killing of Chauhan, there have been several attacks on forest teams, on personnel of the special armed forces (SAF) of MP police, on sub-divisional magistrates and others who dared to stop the illegal activities and stand in their way.
Last year, Vishwanath Singh, a SAF personnel was fired at in Morena.
The attack took place when the sand mafia tried to take away eight tractor-trolleys by avoiding police checking.
Multiple gunshots were fired and a bullet hit the SAF personnel near his spine, injuring him critically. This incident occurred on March 31 last year.
Besides, a sub-divisional magistrate was attacked last year in this region. SDM Rajesh Rathore was overpowered and shot at when he was on an official mission against illegal sand excavation. The incident occurred in Bhind district, adjoining Morena, in Chambal region on June 11, 2014.
Also, a police man had a narrow escape when there was an attempt to crush him by illegal sand miners near the Chambal sanctuary on March 2 last year.
In the past few years, a construction boom for industrial and residential purposes in the the state has led to a surging demand for sand and gravel. Sources said that a section of unscrupulous realtors prefer dealing with the illegal mining mafia as it provides raw materials at a price lower than the market rates.
Growing demand has made the sand mafia audacious, the sources added.
Forest squads too have been repeatedly targeted.
In the past, sand mafia had even attacked the Saraichhola police station in Morena and set police vehicles on fire. And these are just a few of the incidents in the Chambal region.
Sources said political patronage also plays a major role in emboldening the mafia. When the SDM was attacked, the suspects were found to be kin of a local politician. Probe into the killing of policeman Chauhan also suggests the driver had made a call to a local politician's son.
Police officials aren't ready to come on record, proving the fear the sand mafia has managed to evoke. However, privately they say that involvement of politicians, especially, those in power is responsible for the situation.
"The business of illegal sand mining is to the tune of hundreds of crores. Such is the influence of the sand mafia that when an entire SAF battalion was posted here to check sand mining, pressure from influential politicians forced the government to later withdraw the battalion," said a police official.
Despite efforts, the inspector general of police in Chambal RS Meena couldn't be contacted.
The state government has maintained that it will take strong action against the mafia.
Soon after Dharmendra Chauhan's killing, chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said that strict action will be taken against the perpetrators and on Tuesday he announced a probe by a special investigation team.
Congress, however, blamed ruling party leaders for allowing the situation to go out of hand.
Senior Congress leader and MLA Govind Singh said illegal mining is taking place all over the region and all efforts to stop it have failed.
"Not just in Chambal and Sindh river beds, even in Chambal sanctuary, mining continues unabated," said Singh, who represents Lahar (Bhind) in the assembly.
He pointed out that even ordinary the common man has been targeted by the sand mafia.
"Sometimes ago, a farmer objected to taking machines used for illegal excavation of sand from his fields and he was killed," the Congress legislator added.