A meadow ruined by greed

  • 30/08/1993

A meadow ruined by greed ON AUGUST 14, 1991, the residents of Mogji Ka Kheda village near Udaipur woke up to a shocking sight: labourers digging up a part of their 17-ha community pasture. When the startled villagers, led by Godaji Gadari, confronted the labourers they learnt the workers had been employed by Udaipur mining contractor Ambalal Mali to extract marble from the pasture. The villagers were told the state mines department had leased out the land to Pankaj Rao, the son of a department employee, and Mali was mining the area on Rao's behalf.

The enraged villagers immediately chased the labourers away, but now, despite pitched legal battles, the pasture stands ravaged and the village's 2,000 cattle have no place to graze. The issue has divided the village and the people are demoralised.

Says 72-year-old Gadari: "In 1987, the panchayat spent Rs 32,000 to improve the pasture. Not only has this money gone waste, we may now also be forced to dispose of our goats and sheep." Gadari's dismay is not surprising, considering the course the affair has taken.

After chasing away Mali's labourers, the villagers took up the matter with the district administration and mining officials. The district collector and the mining engineer stated the lease was unlawful and ordered its cancellation, which was made public through a mines department communique issued on November 23.

But that was about the only victory for the villagers. On January 3, 1992, the lessee obtained a court order prohibiting the state government from rescinding the lease until a decision was taken on the case.

Gadari and his fellow-villagers say they are virtually helpless because they don't have money to hire lawyers to fight their case. "Even friendly lawyers demand Rs 10,000," says Gadari.

Meanwhile, aware that it would not be possible to operate in the village despite the court order, the mine owner is reported to have bribed some people -- including some who had opposed him initially -- to silence. Villagers allege that those who could not be bought over are intimidated frequently. According to Ram Chandra Sharma of neighbouring Kedariya village, who also opposes the lease, there have been many fights in the past two years over the issue.

Interestingly, the lease was obtained for marble mining, but the pasture bears only ordinary rock. "So, the miner can sell only small quantities as ordinary building material. The money the mine owner makes is trivial, but he has done great damage to the village. Most of the 50 households depend heavily on their cattle," says Sharma.

Gadari is pessimistic about the outcome of the case: "Even if the land comes back to the village after a few years, it would be totally ravaged by then and most of our cattle would have perished."