The warning is chilling – “Don’t go near that village. The people will pelt stones at your vehicle and may even attack you…they will not even ask who you are”.
This is mafia land, a rugged countryside dotted with hills and forests in Rajasthan’s Alwar district, where a mining cartel holds sway. Their diktat is the last word and their orders executed with military precision by villagers.
And this influential mining mafia – involved in illegal lifting of stones used in building construction — has held up a proposed Army missile launch pad in the Kithoor area, about 150 km from Delhi.
Officials confirmed that a team of around 150 members of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) was attacked and forced to leave by angry villagers in September.
The missile launch pad is among two major projects planned by the DRDO in the state — the other is a missile interception base in Pali district. The premier agency for defence-related research has already acquired huge chunk of forest land in both the locations. The area is largely inhabited by the Mev community, which is involved in illegal mining in forest land.
The villagers were allegedly told by the mining cartel that the Army would carry out explosions in the area and that they would be forced to leave their homes.
Work was stopped after the attack and DRDO’s machinery is now lying idle by the roadside at Kithoor. Kasim Khan, sarpanch of Khoha Bas village near the proposed missile base, confirmed the attack and said the villagers were wary they would not be able to graze their cattle in the forest.
However, Alwar district forest officer PD Gupta said “grazing” was just an excuse.
“Illegal mining is the real issue. The community protesting the project is largely involved in illegal mining even in the forest areas,” Gupta told HT.
With the mafia holding sway among the villagers, even a camp organised by the district administration and forest officials failed to persuade them in favour of the project. Fear of the mafia — who allegedly use strong-arm tactics against opponents — runs so deep that residents of Khoha Bas village warned this correspondent against visiting the proposed Army base.
From a hilltop in the village, people pointed out earth-moving vehicles and tractors which are allegedly used for illegal mining. Murari Jatav, a local farmer, said tractor-trolleys transport around 15 loads of stone on an average. However, the figure could not be independently verified. DRDO authorities did not reply to e-mail queries on the plans in Rajasthan and the Alwar incident.
According to district administration officials, the DRDO has proposed to carry out construction only on 10% of the land and develop the rest of land as forest.
In Pali, the ministry has acquired 370 hectares land in Sendra forest range and is likely to carry on with the project soon. Rajasthan is strategically important as the state shares an over 1,000-km international border with Pakistan.
According to defence sources, at present the missiles are stored at certain locations in Gujarat and have to be transported to Rajasthan. The plan is to develop missile bases in Rajasthan to ensure quick response in case of emergencies.
Besides the missile launch pad and storage facility, there was also plan to develop a missile interception base so that attack from across the border could be nullified, said official sources who requested anonymity.