BJP govt. working to protect the interests of big industrialists: Priyanka Gandhi Vadra

She speaks up in support of Nishad men and women whose boats were recently damaged

Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Sunday accused the BJP government of working for the interests of the sand mining mafia.

Addressing a gathering of Nishad men and women whose boats were recently damaged by the administration in Prayagraj during a drive against alleged illegal sand mining, Ms. Vadra vowed to fight for the community’s rights to get pattas (land grants).

“The government in power is not working for you but for the mining mafia and other kinds of mafia,” Ms. Vadra said at Banswar village, where on February 4 police and administrative officials allegedly damaged the boats and lathi charged Nishad boatmen and labourers near the Yamuna river.

Ms. Vadra said that the three new farm laws would cause harm to farmers but benefit big industrialists.

“Similarly, the laws implemented related to rivers like the Ganga and Yamuna are not for your well-being but that of the industrialists. The big companies have all permissions… laws are made in such a way. They can earn from the river but you can’t,” Ms. Vadra said.

The Nishads or Mallahs are a group of riverine communities traditionally engaged with river-bed farming, boating, fisheries and other similar activities. They are categorised as a backward caste and are among the largest OBC group after the Yadavs in Uttar Pradesh.

On February 4, a joint team of police personnel and administrative and mining officials landed up at Mohabbatganj and Baswar village in the trans-Yamuna area of Prayagraj district after complaints of alleged mining. Dozens of people on boats were digging sand out of the Yamuna, said Prayagraj police.

Officials explained to the people there that they were engaging in illegal mining and that legal action could be taken against them, said police.

The Nishads accused the police of lathicharge on them, including women and children, and allegedly breaking more than a dozen boats belonging to them.

Prayagraj police, however, said that when the official team reached the area, the people on the spot started to get “aggressive” and insisted on carrying on with the mining. A person from the crowd then threw stones that hit the earthmover, police said. Prayagraj police said it used “restraint” to send back the people from the site.

Referring to the incident, Ms. Vadra said the administration and police should be “ashamed” if they beat up the Nishad women.

Ms. Vadra said that under the previous Congress-led governments, the Nishad community had concessions to practice their traditional livelihood.

She said that the Nishad community would never harm the environment, rivers, forests or animals as their lives and livelihood depended on them.

However, the lives of big business and contractors are not linked to the forests and rivers, she stated. “It doesn’t matter to them if rivers, forests or animals are harmed. But you understand this. Because you have been doing this for generations and your lives depend on this,” Ms. Vadra said.

She also acknowledged the support received by the BJP from the Nishad community in the recent elections.

“Your community has provided great support to this government. They came to power on your votes but have forgotten [that],” she said.

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