EDITORIAL Issue-01 July to September 2010 Index Page
Full version of the report

India: Handing explosives to the Maoists


Putting interest of the greedy  corporates above the people and security forces

The government of India and the state governments have turned a blind eye to illegal mining in the rush for economic growth. Unregulated mining is proliferating at an extraordinary rate. It is not without consequences: hundreds of thousands of people, mainly Adivasis, have been dispossessed from their lands without resettlement and rehabilitation.

The plight of the Adivasis has been ignored. Since the start of the current Maoists uprising in 2005, anyone who questions mining, no matter the motive or evidence, is assumed to be a “pro-Maoist”; by inference a supporter of terrorism and a threat to national security.   

Favouring corporate interests at the expense of security is a high risk strategy.  Where state governments have allowed illegal mines, supplies of explosives must follow. No explosives, no mining. Since explosives cannot be sourced through legal channels by illegal mines, they must, logically, be sourced illegally.  As will be seen from the government figures below, the current scale of illegal mining is very significant. The logical conclusion is again inescapable: there are now extraordinary quantities of unregulated and illegal explosives available in India’s conflict afflicted regions. 

It is important to understand that unregulated markets don’t make value judgments, they operate on the ability to pay, not on any sense of principle or duty to one’s nation. A free market in explosives provides the opportunity for large scale acquisition of explosives. Illegal mines are obtaining large quantities of explosives illegally and, given their aims, it would seem irresponsible not to assume that the Maoist insurgents are doing the same. 

An indicator of the scale of the problem was provided by Mr B.K. Handique, Union Minister of Mines who informed Parliament on 8 March 2010 that the state governments had detected 1,61,040 illegal mining activities in 17 States of mainland India between 2006 to 2009. This number represents only a fraction of the illegal mining in the country. [1]

State governments took minimal action to prevent illegal mining. Mr Handique earlier informed the parliament 23 February 2010 that in 1,61,040 cases of illegal mining in 2006-2009, the State governments filed court cases in  only 20,646 incidents. The poorest record is held by the State government of Gujarat which went to court in only 8 cases against 39,670 reports of illegal mining (i.e. 0.02%); followed by Maharashtra with 13 court cases out of 22,885 detected cases (0.05%); Rajasthan with 59 court cases out of 11,513 detected cases (0.51%); West Bengal with 19 court cases out of  901 detected cases (2.11%); Orissa with 86 court cases out of 2,756 detected cases (3.12%); Haryana with 138 court cases out of 3,897 detected cases (3.54%);  Jharkhand with 39 court cases out of 953 detected cases (4.09%); Karnataka with 711 court cases out of  12,191 detected cases (5.83%); Tamil Nadu with 421 court cases out of 5,191 detected cases (8.11%); Chhatishgarh with 2,283 court cases out of 7,402 detected cases (30.84%); Himachal Pradesh with 711 court cases out of 2095 detected cases (33.94%) and Madhya Pradesh with 16,157 court cases out of 17,394 detected cases of illegal mining (92.88%). [2]

It should be underlined that the majority of illegal mining activities are located in areas where Adivasis live - the heartlands of the Maoists. Effectively, it is hard to escape the conclusion that state failure to regulate mining is arming the Maoists.

The security threat is not a theory. Explosives recovered from the Maoists by the security forces confirm that the insurgents have very significant quantities of explosives. According to information collated by the Asian Centre for Human Rights, the security forces recovered 1,50,940 kg of ammonium nitrate explosive, 60,511 detonators, 8,000 rings for grenade making and 1,964 kgs of gelatin  and 1,918 gelatin sticks between January 2009 to September 2010 from the Maoists.  The security forces further stated that Maoists snatched 54,500 kg of explosives during the same period. These again must be regarded as a fraction of the real numbers. They do not, for example, include incidents such as the disappearance of nearly 300 tonnes of explosives from 61 trucks moving from Dholpur in Rajasthan to Sagar in Madhya Pradesh during April to June 2010. 

It must be noted that supplies of explosives and equipment have to come from somewhere. Here too, the mining industry has a case to answer. The evidence suggest that the regulated explosive markets are in fact, at best, poorly regulated. If one accepts the existing consensus that illegal explosives and detonators are accessed from within India, then one must conclude that the most likely benefactor is the ‘regulated’ market for explosives.

The Maoists are clearly getting explosives directly from the mines. In a number of districts, including Latehar of Jharkhand, the State is no longer in control. However, private companies, including mining companies continue to work if they pay a ‘tax’ to the Maoists. On 22 July 2010, Home Minister P Chidambaram appeared to concede this arrangement when he stated that “unless the State is able to provide them better security they will have to pay these rents to protect their investments.”

It is common knowledge that Maoist ‘taxes’ or ‘rent’ go well beyond cash. Insurgent groups need explosives that mining companies can provide. Mining companies (both legal and illegal), operating in areas where the state cannot offer security are in no position to refuse.

Yet, at the political level, corporate interests are clearly being favoured over national security. No corrective measure has been taken. Neither the Explosives Act, 1884 nor the Explosives Rules revised in 2008 provide for any specific requirement to ensure that explosives sold/sanctioned to the licensees have been used only for lawful activities or purposes allowed under the Act and the Rule.

There is no provision for monitoring end use of explosives by physical inspection on-site. Rule 24 of the Explosives Rules, 2008 provides only for “maintenance of records and submission of returns”. While Rule 128 of the Explosive Rules, 2008 provides for “powers of search and seizures”, there is no mechanism for monitoring end use by spot verification of the explosives sold / sanctioned to the licencee.

Explosives are sanctioned by the Petroleum and Explosive Safety Organisation (PESO) under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. India’s anti-terror bodies such as the Multi-Agency Centre under the Minitsry of Home Affairs or State Multi Agency Centre have little idea about the explosives and other materials being sanctioned by PESO. In fact, PESO website shows that Jharkhand, which has negligible illegal mining (953 cases in the last four years), has till date sanctioned 42,77,150 detonators  and 6,85,386 kg of nitrate mixture explosives to 376 separate licencees. [3]

India’s lack of action against illegal mining in the last five years can be argued to have changed the nature of the conflict with the Maoists. The technology used to deploy explosives by insurgent groups does not remain static. The Maoists will develop ever greater technical sophistication in their bomb making and have an almost unlimited access to basic materials. India should be alarmed.

The use of easily accessed base materials plus increasing know-how will have devastating impact on human security. The failure to regulate mining is putting both India’s security forces and civilian lives at real risk.

ACHR’s collated data demonstrates that between January 2005 to 14 November 2010, the Maoists triggered 533 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) - 25 in 2005, 62 in 2006, 102 in 2007, 65 in 2008, 178 in 2009 and 101 up to 14 November in 2010. During the same period, 380 explosions were fatal causing death of 442 persons and injury to 422 others. [4]  The right to life is being trampled at will.

The government of India is drafting the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Bill. The latest version of 3 June 2010 is silent on security.  The Bill is not aimed at monitoring detonators and explosives; and the mining lobby remains too powerful to allow anyone to subject the industry to government oversight, even at the expense of the security of the country and her people.

So long the explosives for mining is not brought within the ambit of the security agencies, India will continue to hand explosives to the armed groups, most notably the Maoists. Existing illegal mines should be closed as a national security priority. Further, the government of India must amend the Explosive Rules of 2008 to include stringent provisions for regulating the use of explosives including on the spot end use verification.

Maoist strategy does not yet include attacks on metropolitan cities and towns but there is no reason to assume this will always remain the case. With large quantities of easily obtained explosives and improving bomb making technology, the potential for a very large and sophisticated bomb attack on a major city can no longer be ruled out. The risks multiply each day as the government allows a river of explosives to gather in the Maoists’ hands.

Endnotes:
1. Unstarred Question No.1151 asked by Shri Rajkumar Dhoot and answered on 08-03-2010 in RS by Shri B.K.Handique, Minister of Mines
& Minister of DONER.
2. Unstarred Question No.12 asked by Shri Prabhakar Ponnam and answered on 23-02-2010 in Lok Sabha by Shri B.K.Handique, Minister of Mines & Minister of DONER.
3. Information collated by the ACHR through list of licencees for explosives Form LE-3 (Form 22) in Jharkhand; available at:
http://203.129.203.165:8008/explosives/searchByState_Result.asp?statename=JH&pagesize=10&lictype=&form=22
4. http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/india/maoist/data_sheets/Landmineincident.htm
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