Most people in Garo Hills will remember the construction of the Garobadha-Dalu Road that was completed in record quick time. But most will not know that the stones used for the construction of the road came from a few villages – one of them being Kilman Gittim, under Selsella Block, in West Garo Hills.
While the use of the stones may not be surprising, what is surprising is that company bought the rights to several years’ worth of stones for a mere Rs 10 lakhs.
Kilman Gittim is a small village of 36 households, with most of the village depending on agriculture to support their families. However, when BSCPL Infrastructure Ltd, the company behind the construction of the road, approached the village for quarrying stones in the area, the villagers were overjoyed, thinking this would bring prosperity to the entire village.
In 2014 a contract was drawn between the BSCPL and the then Nokma of the village for extraction of stones from an area of around 2 hectares.
“When they came we thought it was only for a few trucks every day but later the few trucks became more than 100 per day. This became a routine for the next five years,” said one of the villagers, Mingsing Sangma.
The villagers, most of whom are uneducated, had no idea as to what was happening and were shocked at the level of extraction as they could have become rich had they sold the stones themselves.
When the villagers demanded a copy of the agreement made between the BSCPL and the Nokma, the company initially refused to provide it. When pressure was applied on the firm to produce the documents, the company did so but accused the Nokma, Gotjeng Marak, of threatening it and had him arrested.
Going by market rates, even taking a conservative Rs 10,000 as the valuation of stones per truck, the entire daily exploitation of resources comes to a mammoth Rs 10 lakh, which is what BSCPL paid the village for five years’ worth of exploitation of the quarry.
The company was not satisfied with the bargain it struck either. BSCPL allegedly went beyond the 2 hectares they were allotted, destroying nearby plantations without paying compensation.
“My entire rubber plantation was destroyed by them but when I complained they did not even pay for the damage done. Now I am stuck with a completely destroyed crop and almost no money,” said another villager, Tapjeng Marak.
Moreover, the company allegedly manoeuvred its way into getting Gotjeng Marak to sign a blank piece of paper, which they used to help an individual to set up a private quarry on the same land after the contract with the village expired in 2019.
The villagers had had enough of all this by this time and banded together to explore their options for redressal.
“There has been a breach of contract after the company used more land than they had been given. This breach of contract has caused us a lot of losses. They have not even compensated us for the loss of our trees and land that we lost. We will take this matter up,” said Gotjeng Marak.
While the villagers had been initially helpless in their plight, after receiving support they have found the will to fight back and demand what is their due.
“The company cheated us and they need to pay for what they did,” added the villagers.