Manjari Mishra, JABALPUR: After much hyped gold rush in Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao, Mandla in Madhya Pradesh is witnessing a similar hunt for gemstones. Life in this tribal-dominated district has practically come to a halt since last fortnight. Schemes like MNREGS have no takers and even farming has been put on hold as villagers are busy digging and sifting their way to riches.
“At least 10 villages are involved in this exercise looking for these unidentified pebbles,” said ex-minister Devi Singh Saiyyam.
Saiyyam, who is from Mandla, said little black, white, brown, rust or red coloured nuggets were occasionally found around Nainpur some 50 years ago.
But now as jewellers coming here are willing to pay handsome price, gem-hunt has turned into a 24×7 obsession in neighboring villages as well. Saiyyam has petitioned the district administration to look into the phenomenon, have the stones examined for what they are worth and regulate the digging.
“Buyers, mostly jewellers from Nagpur, Delhi, Jaipur and Noida, are willing to pay anything between Rs 1,800 to Rs 2,500 per gram for the find,” said Atul Sethi, a local lawyer.
The stones were first discovered near the ruins of Taragarh fort, once inhabited by Gondwana rulers, and tribals would sell them for a pittance. “But now they are being found everywhere – within 40 km radius,” he told TOI.
Sethi said locals call it a gift from Tara Devi, their guardian deity, who had prophesied such a phenomenon long ago. And now no one wants to do anything else in this area. In Taliwada, over 2,000 men, women and children are involved in the exercise. “In fact farmers have rented out their fields for Rs 10,000 a month to interested parties. The tenants are free to carry out digging and keep the treasure if they find any. And if they draw a blank, it is purely their bad luck,” the lawyer said.
Magan Lal, a Gond tribal from Chincholi, claimed to have made Rs 5,000 last week by selling a pile of “guria” (small pebbles). His entire clan is involved in the hunt, he said. Lal’s father apparently sold each for 50 paise. Therefore, the sudden appreciation in price to the illiterate man is a mystery. That it could be worth much more – the idea, he said, never crossed his mind. Anyway, he is happy with what he terms “hassle free big money”.
“A fossil-rich pocket, Mandla could have layers of gemstones lying undisturbed so far,” Jabalpur divisional commissioner Deepak Khandekar told TOI. Khandekar has called for an expert team from Bhopal to visit the cluster and identify the stones.