The tale of Rela: A peek inside a Rajasthan village battered by the downsides of mining
The ear-splitting sound of explosions brings life to a standstill each day in Rela, a small village surrounded by the mighty Aravalli mountain range in Rajasthan.
Women stop working in the fields and school children duck for cover, as the ground beneath their feet begins to shake. The residents of Rela have learned to live with the ‘man-made earthquakes’, not willingly but out of desperation.
Situated in Sikar, a district adjacent to the state capital Jaipur, Rela falls under Neem Ka Thana, a small township that houses clusters of mines. The impact of the blasting, carried out in these mines, is quite similar to an earthquake.
Rela’s tale is an apt example of the dark side of mining , a sector that earned the in the desert state a revenue of Rs 2,866.37 crore in the financial year 2015-2016.
“Each day when blasting begins in the mines near the dam in our village, we rush indoors to avoid the shower of small and large stones, some as large as footballs, that follows,” says Ramkumar, one of the villagers.
Other villagers, such as Indraj Gurjar, show the cracks and fissures that have developed in the walls in most of the houses. The men claim that continuous blasting has weakened the foundation of their houses.
Not too far away from the mining sites, government primary school teacher Manoj Kumar Sharma has to follow his daily errand of comforting scared students once the blasting begins. “In January, I had written to the administration stating that the students get scared during the blasting and at times stones crash into the school compound. We also face difficulties with the smoke resulting from it,” says Sharma.
Seven months later, no action has been taken by the administration.
Last year, Rajasthan allocated approximately ₹900 crore for the District Mineral Foundation (DMF) — a trust set up as a non-profit body in districts affected by mining works — which is meant for the welfare of people living near areas where direct mining-related operations take place.
The Pradhan Mantri Khanij Kshetra Yojana (PMKKKY) and other welfare schemes of the state are expected to be implemented through the DMF.
However, local residents claim that the administration has done nothing for their welfare till now.
“When we complain about the difficulties we face due to blasting, all we get are threats from the people involved in the mining industry. At times, they also call the police who further threaten us,” claims Jaswant, another resident of Rela.
Activists allege that collusion between the mining mafia and the police has resulted in never-ending difficulties for the villagers.
“A lot of illegal explosives are brought for blasting in the mines, which openly violate government rules by operating close to the Rela dam. The administration has turned a blind eye to the problem of the villagers,” says activist Kailash Mina.
Police data shows that till 2012-2016, 13 cases were registered in the nearby Patan police station wherein illegal explosives were brought for blasting purpose.
The sight of trucks loaded with stones, meandering through the potholed kuchcha roads of Rela is common.
“I had filed an RTI application seeking details such as the registration number of the vehicles and driving licences of people who bought illegal explosives but the department has refused to give the information,” said Mina.
Continuous mining has also taken a toll on the natural resources in the area, groundwater levels have completely depleted in places near the village.
According to data from the groundwater department, the water level in Patan, turned dry before rainfall last year. The data of the past few years show that the groundwater level has consistently gone down over time.
According to latest figures from the Rajasthan state pollution control board (RSPCB), it has issued operating licenses to a total of 30,976 mining establishments in the state. They include 3,443 major mineral leases, 15,610 minor mineral leases and 11,923 quarry licences.
A senior official of the board, on the condition of anonymity, said that due to severe shortage of technical staff, it’s not possible for it to inspect every establishment to make sure that they are following the guidelines.
Like most mining villages in Rajasthan, people in Rela experience breathing problem because of the dust and smoke, which frequent blasting generates. “Several people in our village experience breathing problem and we fear the worst as the menace of silicosis is well known to us. But there’s no way that we can escape the risk of this disease,” said Ram Singh, another resident.
The Rajasthan government currently Rs 1 lakh to people who are diagnosed with silicosis and Rs 3 lakh to families of those who succumb to the disease.
According to data from the mining department, in the last three years, 2,052 labourers working in various mines across the state have been diagnosed with silicosis. And 236 have lost their lives in the past three years.