Caught in a political crossfire, Shivraj backtracks on mining in holy hillock

A controversy has erupted over the move to allow mining on a mythologically famous hillock known as ‘Siddha Pahad’, located in the Chitrakoot area of Satna district of Madhya Pradesh. It has brought the ruling BJP and the Opposition Congress face to face.

The mounting attacks from the Opposition and also from BJP leaders in the Vindhya region prompted Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan to step in and order an end to the process of legalising mining in the area.

“Mining won’t be allowed on heritage sites, including Siddha Pahad in Satna district. Direction issued to Satna district administration,” Chouhan said on September 2, adding that “Siddha Pahad, which is a heritage site and the centre of our faith, reverence and sanctity, will be kept intact.”

This prompt decision from the top leader of the ruling BJP came sensing the sentiments of the people in Vindhya region, which includes Rewa, Satna, Singrauli, Sidhi and Umaria, and in view of the assembly elections which are just 15 months away.

The BJP lost the Raigaon assembly seat in Satna district to the Congress in the November bypolls last year, despite bagging 24 out of 30 assembly seats in the 2018 elections. The winds of change have set alarm bells ringing in the BJP.

Another reason behind this prompt step of Chouhan, as political observers said, is not to give an opportunity to the Congress to corner the saffron party for going against its own ideology.

Sidhha Pahad is no ordinary hillock, it has a mythological story behind it. It is believed that during his stay in the Chitrakoot forest during the 14 years of his exile, Lord Ram had pledged on the same hillock to eliminate the demons.

However, even after Chouhan’s intervention, questions are still being raised over mining in the area by not only the opposition but also by the politicians associated with the ruling BJP. Local MLAs from both the parties in Satna district who objected to the decision to legalise mining in this area, have now raised concerns over the ongoing illegal mining.

BJP MLA from Maihar assembly constituency (under Satna district) Narayan Tripathi, who along with the Congress MLA Nilanshu Chaturvedi from Chitrakoot seat, wrote to Chief Minister Chouhan on this matter, has questioned the intention of his own party ruling the state. Tripathi said the process of legalising mining was only stopped, whereas it should be cancelled permanently.

“The government should put a complete ban on mining in this area. In the current order, only the process of legalising has been stopped, which will pave the way to regularise mining later. In my letter to the Chief Minister, I have demanded an order to stop mining here,” Tripathi said while talking to IANS exclusively on this matter.

He also claimed that rampant illegal mining was going on under a nexus between politically connected people and the mining officials in Satna district.

“It is an open secret that rampant illegal mining is going on in Chitrakoot, Maihar and many other places in Rewa, Sidhi and Satna districts. I have raised my voice against illegal mining and will continue to do so until the government takes an apt decision in this matter,” Tripathi said, adding that, “What is the meaning of stopping legalisation of mining when there is rampant illegal mining taking place for years.”

In his letter to Chouhan, Tripathi mentioned, “Instead of working to preserve the sites lying on the proposed Ram Van Gaman Path, any effort to damage or destroy those sites will amount to hurting of Hindu religious sentiments, which will not be tolerated by local residents and seers in Chitrakoot.”

Why did a political uproar break out over this particular mining area of Siddha Pahad, when illegal mining is taking place in many other parts of the state; Because this particular hillock is located in the sacred 84 Kosi Parikrama route of the religious hotspot Chitrakoot in Satna district. According to the Aranya Kand of Hindu epic Ramcharitmanas, the Siddha Pahad is believed to have been formed by the bones of seers who were killed by demons.

The hillock lies on the long proposed Ram Van Gaman Path (religious tourism circuit on the route of Ram-Sita-Laxman’s exile) for the initial phase of which the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government has reportedly sought Rs 500 crore from the central government recently.

The controversy over this issue began with the circular issued by the regional office of the MP State Pollution Control Board in Satna district recently regarding public information for holding a Lok Sunwai (public hearing) on September 30, which is a prerequisite for mandatory environmental clearance for allowing legitimate mining anywhere.

With the state pollution control board setting the ball rolling for environmental clearance of resumption of mining on the Siddha Pahad (Siddha Kothar), the opposition Congress has launched a scathing attack on the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government over the issue.

Madhya Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC) head and former Chief Minister Kamal Nath attacked the BJP government saying, “After playing politics in the name of Lord Ram, the BJP government is now working in a well-planned manner to destroy remains related to the same deity. The Congress won’t sit silent over the issue, but fight battles from the streets to the Vidhan Sabha to prevent destruction of the religiously important hillock.”

Sources in the pollution control department in Satna district told IANS that mining was allowed in the area, including the Siddha Pahad in 1978 and the mining lease was allotted to two local mining companies of Satna district for 30 years, which was valid till 2008.

When the BJP government led by Ram Temple Movement leader Uma Bharti attained power in MP in 2003, the idea of Ram Van Gaman Path tracing the exile route of Lord Ram was mooted for the first time and five years later, the mining lease wasn’t renewed.

In 2011, the two firms who were allotted the mining lease for the area in 1978, attempted for its renewal, but owing to public resentment, the then Satna district administration declared entire area religiously important 84 Kosi Parikrama Zone of Chitrakoot (which includes the Siddha Pahad) as No Mining Zone.

A fresh move has been made now by the concerned mining firms to renew their mining operations in the area with the help of an influential politician of Vindhya region of MP, which led to a fresh controversy.

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