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Diamond loot on in Chhattisgarh mines

By Sujeet Kumar, IANS,

Pailikhand (Chhattisgarh) : Call it the great Indian diamond loot. Hundreds of people have been rushing every day to a fenced portion of Pailikhand village since mid-July to sieve the soil for the precious stones – simply because there is no security.

“Earlier I had tried a number of times to sneak into the confirmed diamond deposit site but was always denied entry by policemen guarding the banned site,” Birju, an impoverished 22-year-old tribal youth, said at the site.

“But now my dream has come true as the site has been literally thrown open – with the security cover being completely withdrawn.”

In this area, where Maoist activities have been on the rise, security was apparently withdrawn in July for want of accommodation and other facilities for policemen. And thus a confirmed diamond rich site lies completely unsecured, paving the way for a free-for-all.

People have been making a beeline for Pailikhand village, which comes under Raipur district, to scour the soil for precious stones, put it in sacks and hand it over to diamond merchants who pay them up to Rs.100 and take away the stone for processing in big cities and earn big bucks.

Diamond merchants, who mostly hail from Gujarat and Maharashtra, are camping here to take away diamond through local people after the state government withdrew the security cover to the area.

Mining department officials say a firm, B. Vijaykumar Chhattisgarh Exploration Pvt Ltd (BVCE), confirmed that the site has rich stocks of high quality diamond.

The state government had in the year 2000 awarded a prospecting licence to BVCE for the area that lies close to the Orissa border and is located some 150 km from capital Raipur. But it cancelled the licence of the company in early 2001.

BVCE moved the Chhattisgarh High Court against the government decision and the matter is still sub judice but the government banned people from visiting the site, fencing the portion with confirmed diamond deposits and also deploying security men.

But in mid-July, security was totally withdrawn, paving the way for a mad rush to the site. People have been illegally taking away diamond-rich soil and stones.

“It’s true there are no security men now, but we are covering the area through patrolling. Policemen will be re-deployed only when their accommodation is built,” Amit Kumar, Raipur district superintendent of police, told IANS.

“It’s a Maoist-hit area and we need houses for some 40-50 security personnel to guard the diamond-rich site as well as counter any threat from the rebels.”

“I have requested the mining authorities to take care of policemen’s routine problems as there is no water, no electricity, no accommodation, nothing for jawans now; it may take another two months to redeploy police.”

The Pailikhand area comes under the Mahasamund parliamentary constituency and the local MP of the state’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has also expressed surprise over security withdrawal.

“I found a mad rush of people at Pailikhand in search of diamonds. It’s shocking that a confirmed diamond rich site has been left unprotected since July 18 this year, especially when increased Maoist movement has been noticed in the area,” Chandulal Sahu, the BJP MP from Mahasamund, told IANS.

He said he had conveyed his concern to the state’s BJP government personally on the issue.

Concerned over the diamond loot at Pailikhand, the opposition Congress formed a six-member panel late last month that made an on-the-spot visit recently and submitted a report to the party.

“During the visit to Pailikhand, panel members found massive illegal diamond mining going on after security men deployed at the site for years were withdrawn. When panel members were at the site, hundreds of local people and outsiders were jostling with one another to dig the soil and take away stones,” Congress general secretary Ramesh Varlyani said.

“It’s an open loot of diamonds from a site that has confirmed deposits of the world’s best quality diamonds. The Congress has dashed off a letter to Governor E.S.L. Narasimhan on the basis of the panel’s findings and requested him to intervene,” he added.

(Sujeet Kumar can be contacted at [email protected])