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99 Yatra
Milking Fatehgarh dry
18 September 2007

Fatehgarh (Rapar, Kutch), :Fatehgarh village in Rapar taluka in Kutch district is on a fast-track to an environmental disaster. The frantic mining in the clay belt of Fatehgarh and adjoining villages in Rapar, has spelt disaster not just for land but also the livelihood in this region.
The agricultural productivity of the land has reduced drastically in the last five years. “Agriculture has died a rapid death in the clay zones of Kutch. In summers, clay forms a think blanket over crops. During monsoons, the clay runs into the fields and hardens the soil, trapping all the moisture underneath,” says PS Rathore, a retired school teacher. “In my own field, the production of bajra has decreased by over 50 percent over the last one year as mines have been dug all around it.”

“The excavation trucks dump clay and waste soil from the mines directly into the adjoining fields,” says Bharat Dhodia, who works with the NGO, Setu. Sandeep Virmani, an environmental activist, says, “Though the clay deposits are concentrated in five or six pockets in the district, many small clay industries are heavily dependent on them. None of these mines go through an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) though they have a huge adverse impact on the environment in the region.”

With farms losing their fertility, farmers are selling their land and moving away from Fatehgarh. Depending on the quality and quantity of clay found in the soil, mining companies are ready to pay as much as Rs 1 to 3 lakh per acre of land. “The excavation has not spared even the state highway, 16 kms of which, from Fatehgarh to Movana, has been broken in places because it lay in a rich clay belt,” says Dilip Kumar, of Fatehgarh village. Over 150 acres of land has been stripped of any green cover. “The cemetery and the burial grounds have also been ravaged, leaving a small mound where the pyre is burnt.” Even the village wastelands have been mined without taking appropriate permission from the village panchayat.

Once the mines are abandoned, they are allowed to fill up with rainwater, which the mining companies sell to farmers at exorbitant prices. The farmers have no option but to pay through their nose to save their crops from dying in the heat. Every day, over 200 trucks carrying 6,000 tonnes of clay bump along a decrepit state highway from the remote villages to Morbi, Ahmedabad and even Delhi. The mines employ hundreds of people to sort chunks of clay from soil, many of whom are migrants from Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar who come here to work in mines.

Nandram Makhod, of Dhar district in MP, is one among over 60 workers who sort clay all day for a daily wage of about Rs 50 to 70. He migrated to Kutch with his family of five, and stays in open tents of plastic sheets on the mining site. Anil, 9, and Nandu, 7, work with their parents while the youngest child, still an infant, battles for shade under a makeshift crèche, a scrap of plastic sheet propped on four teetering logs. The children are paid under Rs 30 for their daily work. In the markets of Morbi, a tonne of clay can sell for as high as Rs 200, and each mine produces at least 40 tonnes of clay a day.

RK Meena, the Assistant Commissioner (labour) of Kutch region said he has not visited the area and is unaware of child labourers.

Courtesy: - New Delhi,India kutchhis globally , from Mumbai

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