Crushers of justice

A scene from students' protest in Kathmandu following the death of Dilip Mahato. Photo: BIKRAM RAI

This week, in a crime that shocked the nation, a young engineering student was killed and his body crushed with a tipper truck for opposing a sand-mining contractor in Dhanusha.

Just 24 years old, Om Prakash (‘Dilip’) Mahato had come home from college in Bhopal in India. He was incensed about how the Churiyamai Crusher Industry was illegally extracting sand and boulders from the Aurahi River under cover of darkness. The contractor Bipin Mahato had threatened the boy’s father three days previously, saying he would kill him for trying to ruin his business. 

Before dawn on a fog-bound morning last Friday, Dilip heard earth-moving vehicles near the farm and went to inspect. He was attacked with an iron rod, and killed by contractor Bipin Mahato. To make it look like an accident, his body was then run over by tipper driver Munindra Mahato and Jitendra Mahato.

Police have reportedly extracted confessions from all four of the accused, and taken them into custody. The contractor has owned up to impaling Dilip with the sharp end of an iron rod, and the tipper driver has confessed to running over the body.

The hopes of Dilip’s farming family was on this hard-working and idealistic young man who was about to graduate. He leaves behind six sisters, ailing parents and a grandfather. 

As has often been reported in this paper and in investigative reports in other Nepali language media, the appropriately named ‘Crusher’ industry is run by a mafia enjoying political protection from local, district and provincial administrations. Most have strong ties to political parties, with some being wholly or partly owned by those holding office. 

While activists who have exposed illegal sand mining have often been threatened and silenced in the past, this is the first time that someone opposed to unlawful extraction from rivers has been executed by the quarry mafia. 

It speaks volumes about the state of impunity in Nepal today that the perpetrators were convinced they could get away with it. Having politicians, the security apparatus and the courts in their pockets, they think they can literally get away with murder. The crime exposes the criminalisation of politics and the politicisation of crime in federal Nepal, where instead of devolving political power, it is wrongdoing that has been decentralised in the past two years..

What an irony that the contractor had named his ‘crusher’ company after Churiyamai, the goddess protector of the Chure Hills. This southernmost wrinkle of the Himalayan range that rises from the plains does not have bedrock beneath, but sand, boulders and topsoil. The Chure covers 12% of the country and stretches from east to west, spanning 36 districts. The 200 rivers that originate here are dry most of the year, but turn into raging torrents in the monsoon

Once the trees are cut on a Chure slope, there is nothing to hold the soil together and it is eroded very quickly by rain. The sediment is then swept downstream to the Tarai, raising river beds and making floods worse. Indiscriminate logging, illegal sand and boulder mining has ravaged the Chure, especially in the east-central Tarai.

The devastating floods last year and in 2017 in Rautahat and eastwards, was caused by extreme rainfall, but it was exacerbated by haphazard embankment building and the extraction of sand and boulders from rivers which increased the velocity of their flow.

This wanton destruction of the Chure in the hands of a politico-criminal nexus puts more than 10 million Nepali plains-dwellers and many more millions downstream in India at risk of floods.

And then sugarcane farmers were in the capital’s Mandala after failing to be paid by factory owners for the cane they supplied. After being given the runaround, they brought their case to the streets of the capital. They camped out in the winter rain for several days, and the government finally signed an agreement with the farmers, assuring them that factory owners would clear their dues by 21 January.

The nefarious nexus between business and government means they scratch each other’s backs, and it is very likely that this agreement will never be implemented, just like all previous ones. The farmers’ agitation has already dropped off the media headlines, so the sugar barons will try to ride this one out, and like in the past the government’s promised subsidy to farmers will never reach them. The Province 2 government belatedly said on Monday it will close all illegal ‘crushers’, but the proof of the pudding in Nepal is always in the eating.

Any surprise then that the incompetent men who tolerate these injustices will not allow their own comrade, Shivamaya Tumbahangphe, to take over as Speaker. Instead, they are pushing the candidacy of Agni Sapkota, who is accused of a war crime.