As non-local mining concerns bagged most of the mining works across Kashmir, tendered at the peak of internet shutdown, thousands of people have been rendered jobless, reports Umar Mukhtar

Nizar Ahmad Gannie, 37, a resident of Bellow in Pulwama, is eagerly waiting for the spring  to come. He needs work to support his family. Gannie is sitting at home with no work to do for a year.  He hopes the spring would bring back the construction activity and with it he would again find work.

Earlier, Gannie was extracting boulders of the nearby Saas nallah that flows near his house. “I was young, around 16 years of age since I started extracting boulders and earn my living from it,” Gannie said. “My job was to load the boulders onto tractor trolleys”.

Tendering Without Internet

But last year in January 2020, after the abrogation of Article 370, the government asked for the tenders for the auctioning of the mineral blocks and a ban on mining was put in place for those who didn’t had formal permissions. The auctioning happened at a point in time when there was a complete ban on the internet in Jammu and Kashmir. As a result, all the tenders were submitted by non-locals as a result of which the mining jobs were also allotted to them. The people who were earning their livelihood and were dependent on these mineral deposits became the first casualty of the government’s diktat.

The non-locals who secured the bids against lakhs of rupees brought heavy machinery into the rivers and nallas to extract more and more and did not hire manual labourers. “The outsiders just need revenues, how come they would understand our pain and suffering,” said Gannie.

Gannie used to load around four tractors a day and was earning Rs 400 to 500. “A person could earn more if he will load more trolleys but this work is a physical labour and needs much of exertion,” he said.

Sitting Idle

Now, sitting idle at home, Gannie is waiting for the spring and is hopeful that he will find work in the neighbouring villages. Almost two dozen people from his village were dependent on this nallah. “No tractors come here now; they do not want to get caught by the police. A tractor is worth lakhs of rupees so no one will definitely want to get caught just for a mere one load of a trolley that would earn him a few bucks.”

Gannie’s family comprises five members; two sons, a daughter and a wife. The youngest son was hit by pellets in 2016 unrest leaving him blind. “I took him to Hyderabad for the treatment but he could not recover his eyesight,” Gannie said. The financial conditions at home forced his eldest son to drop out of his school in class 11th to assist his family.

Moreover, Gannie has no agricultural land to cultivate. He was solely dependent on the nallah that was flowing at a stone’s throw from his home.

The Renbiar

People rendered jobless in the area are everywhere. Mohammad Amir, 30, a resident of Trenz village in Shopian extracted boulders for a living from Rambiar Nallah for a living.  But now he is sitting home getting occasional labour work in the locality.

Earlier, Amir and two of his brothers worked together. “We had bought a tractor for this purpose only to extract the boulders, but since last year extraction for the locals has been banned, we all are at home,” said Amir.

The village has around 10 tractors. People have invested in buying the tractors with the hope that they will earn livelihood but all of them are no more in use. They are just parked in their respective courtyards. “If a tractor gets caught, then the person has to pay around Rs 15000 to get it released from police,” said Amir.

Amir said that now the manual labour has been replaced by heavy machinery. “Around 30 people from our village used to work in this extraction process but now all of them are jobless.”

Soon after the ban was enforced for the locals, a pandemic followed that made the condition of those labourers worse as they could not find any alternate thing to do.  Amir’s family is a joint family consisting of 10 family members.

“You know in such times when there is so much inflation, how hard is to manage a family of 10,” said Amir.

Amir believes that more than one lakh people in the valley derived their livelihood from the rivers and nallas and he believed that all of them are now jobless. “At many places, these tendered works have been bagged by the non-locals and they bring heavy machinery to do their work  without  any consideration for those who are dependent on these rivers for generations.”

Ecological Concerns

In fact the fisheries department has even voiced their concern many times against the use of heavy machinery for excessive sand mining.  One official on the condition of anonymity said that this can affect fish populations and can even alter the riverbed. It has even the potential of eroding river banks.

People are alleging that the companies who usually work during the nights and use heavy machinery lack ecological clearance for mining even though the authorities have allotted them blocks for extraction. In certain cases, the locals alleged that they are being threatened to shut up.

Javaid Ahmad Malla 28, a resident of the small village of Aghanzpora village in the Awantipora area was working on a boat as a labourer and extracted sand all day. He started doing so when he was just 12 years old. But he no longer extracts sand. He is jobless with a family of five to feed. The contract for the place where he used to extract sand earlier has gone to someone else.

The whole village was dependent on the river Jhelum as all of them were into sand extraction for generations. The village has only one government employee and no agricultural land. Also, they had 40 boats of their own on which they used to load the sand after extraction.

“These boats are now none of our use. They have snatched our livelihood from us,” questioned Malla.   “Where will we go, nobody will take us. We do not have any skill”.

A Crisis In Making

With the residents who have been associated with the mining process for generations rendered jobless by the new scheme of things, there is a lurking danger of a crisis. That is perhaps why most of the contractors prefer working during the nights.

Already sort of a crisis was reported last week when a young man from a Srinagar locality came to media and alleged how his non-local employers who had bagged the mining jobs were using him to attack some locals. He was immediately arrested by the police. Knowing the style of operations of the non-locals mining companies, he gave details about the lack of environmental clearance and a peculiar modus operandi. The young man did admit publicly that he mounted an attack on the local sand-digging leader at the behest of his employers.