In the upcoming Rajasthan elections, BJP MLA Anand Lal Jeengar has been given a BJP ticket to stand again. Jeengar has been accused of illegal sand mining in Rajasthan’s Chittorgarh district.
Contesting against him is first-time MLA candidate, Anandiram Khateek, from Congress.
At one time, Chittorgarh’s Banas used to be a river. It has now been reduced to not much more than grass, rocks, and stones.
Despite sand mining being declared illegal by the Jodhpur High Court and upheld by the Supreme Court in November 2017, locals tell The Quint that the mining has continued unabated under the cover of night.
The Jodhpur High Court had even employed a commission to look into why illegal sand mining was taking place so rampantly in Chittorgarh. In 2016, the commissioner published a report that blamed BJP MLA Jeengar from Kapassana constituency for being the muscle behind the mining.
Two Excerpts From the 2016 Report Read as Follows:
1. “During our interaction with the MLA [Jeengar] we felt quite uneasy and insecure for the reason that the number of locals persons the MLA was carrying along with him and their body language was really frightening for us.”
2. “We noted that as the local MLA from the same village has a big clout in the area therefore the police administration is also incapable, incompetent and powerless in taking action in the region.”
Jeengar has considerable political experience. He has contested elections six times, of which he has won three, lost two, and then again won in 2013 from Kapassana constituency, where he is currently the MLA.
The Quint reached out to Jeengar and his brother Laxman, who said that the altercation with the commissioner was just a misunderstanding.
"“Yes, we met him, but we asked him to come to the village and speak to the local people. He took offence and sent a twisted report.”" - Laxman Jeengar, BJP MLA Arjun Lal Jeengar’s Brother
Laxman acknowledged that illegal sand mining was a problem.
"“A sitting MLA will be blamed for everything, won’t he? Yes, we know illegal sand mining does happen here, but there’s nothing we can do about it.”" - Laxman Jeengar
When asked whether the law-and-order situation in Kapassana was the local MLA’s responsibility, he said, “These are big contractors, what can we do? What if they hurt us?”
Kapassana Congress MLA candidate Anandiram Khateek, who is contesting as MLA for the first time, told The Quint:
"“If you go and speak to locals here they will tell you the Banas river is destroyed. If you go there you will not even see sand anymore but just stones and rocks. The person to be blamed for this is Jeengar.”" - Anandiram Khateek, Kapassana Congress MLA Candidate
A visit to the banks of what was at one time the Banas river confirm Khateek’s claims. When The Quint met several locals from villages adjacent to the river – including Upreda, Panna Kheda, and Jadana village – the people spoke about illegal sand mining in hushed tones. When asked if it was true that illegal sand mining continued unabated under BJP MLA Jeengar, all of them shied away meekly, but agreed.
“You also know this is happening. It happens all the time. No one can stop it, we know that,” several men told The Quint. One of them took us to meet a few women who said they can hear activity there almost every night.
" “Our home is not very far from the banks of the river. There are people illegally smuggling sand. When we go out to do our business in the fields, we can see lights flashing. This is the new normal here.”" - Villager, under condition of anonymity
But despite knowing that the illegal sand mining has continued, many of those gathered still said they would vote for Jeengar.
“We will vote for BJP, we have voted for BJP always,” several of them said.
The BJP, they said, has helped build roads, improved connectivity, and build modern schools in the area. Others in the group preferred to remain quiet or even leave during the show of vehement BJP support.
Khateekar told The Quint that ever since the report had been published, the matter has simply been buried.
When asked why the mining was continuing, Khateekar said:
"“Everyone is making money out of it. The police is under pressure due to which they cannot undertake any investigation. When our government comes we will take strict action against the accused contractors and the political leaders involved.”" - Khateekar
His campaign, he says, is to fight the corrupt image that Jeengar has earned.
When The Quint asked Khateekar if he thought he was on the back foot as he was contesting for the first time against Jeengar, he said, “I have 17 years of experience in Yuva Congress and NSUI. I get support from the youth and the farmers.” he said.
As Jeengar’s constituency, notorious for illegal sand mining, goes to polls, we will know on 11 December whether the people have thrown their support behind Congress candidate Anandiram who promises to take strict action against the accused, or whether they still prefer Jeengar.
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