The earth always yielded gold but the politicians in Uttar Pradesh realised this about two decades ago when two Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) ministers reportedly began giving away mining lease to available parties and started minting money without any effort or investment.
The illegal mining business began in the Bundelkhand region and soon spread to the rest of the state.
When the leases were being given by the influential ministers, the bureaucrats took care not to determine the extent of mining and the business flourished. Again, it was persons with criminal backgrounds who took the lease and passed on the profits to their political mentors.
The BSP made it big and the Samajwadi Party (SP) made it even bigger.
It took a public interest litigation (PIL) to blow off the lid as the Allahabad High Court in 2016 directed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to gauge the extent of the scam and investigate it.
The court had observed that the then Akhilesh Yadav-led government had failed to introduce any technological intervention to curb illegal mining or introduce measures to stop plundering of natural resources through a modus operandi that allegedly saw massive irregularities in allotment of lease for mining.
A senior CBI official said that the court order stated that new mining leases on and after May 31, 2012 would be made only by 'e-tendering' and that all old applications would stand rejected.
However, on February 26, 2013, the state issued an order stating that all approvals given prior to September 2012 would be treated as valid.
Hence, the CBI short-listed seven districts -- Shamli, Hamirpur, Fatehpur, Siddhartha Nagar, Deoria, Kaushambhi and Saharanpur -- and delved deeper into the scam.
By then, the government had changed and FIRs began to be registered. The first FIR was registered in Kaushambi in June 2017. Ten people were booked, including assistant geologist Arvind Kumar.
According to the CBI, Arvibd Kumar had allegedly entered into a criminal conspiracy with eight other individuals to ensure that mining leases for minor minerals were allotted to them.
In Shamli, another assistant geologist Adal Singh was booked for the same.
In January 2019, the CBI also booked the then Hamirpur District Magistrate (DM) B. Chandrakala and three other public servants for allowing illegal mining between 2012 and 2016.
In Deoria, the CBI registered an FIR against IAS officer Vivek and his deputy D.S. Upadhaya, three public servants and four others.
The CBI also booked Uttar Pradesh Principal Secretary (geology and mining) Jivesh Nandan, Special Secretary Santosh Kumar and the then Fatehpur DM Abhay Singh for allegedly colluding with Gayatri Prajapti, the Minister for Mining in the SP government. They were accused of favouring two businessmen by granting mining lease of 90 and 100 acres, respectively.
Surprisingly, none of the criminals or the mafia has been named by the CBI as yet and this is because all leases were taken on benami basis.
"Bundelkhand has been milked dry by illegal mining. Rivers have turned into drains and the land level has also gone down. In the SP and BSP regimes, mining used to take place almost round the clock and there was no check on the number of trucks taking away sand and stones from the region," said Vivek Singh, former Congress MLA from Banda.
He said that if anyone had dared to stop or resist illegal mining, carnage like Sonebhadra would have taken place in Bundelkhand long ago.