The many sand mining laws are in place; the National Green Tribunal forever vigilant against violations; mining is banned in riverbeds without clearance from a Central or state environment authority; competitive bidding is an established practice; licences are issued; the Punjab mines and minerals department exists; and yet brazenly, unauthorised mining goes on with impudence, in spite of raids across the state from time to time. The latest such activity has been reported from the Sutlej bank near Anandpur Sahib, where 40-ft-deep pits have been dug up to excavate sand.
Members of the mining mafia, in a daring incident in June, ruthlessly attacked a Block Forest Range Officer and a guard in Kharar subdivision, leaving them critically injured before fleeing. Inquiry, with a degree of urgency — as is routine in cases that draw such attention, and rage — was ordered. There was a sense of optimism, of perhaps a corner being turned. Evidently, that has not come to be. Aided by political patronage, sand mafia has, for long, been a concern in the state. Frugal action in the form of penalising drivers of tippers and JCBs will only serve to further impel hardened offenders. Sand quarries need to be earmarked, which, of course, they are on paper. But random sites are being plundered, for which a mechanism, away from political impunity — and immunity — must be evolved, with the seriousness to follow it through. Else it will be just a case of another illegal mining, another raid, another probe. All illegal activities will cease for the moment, to be renewed with vigour soon enough.
The demand for sand is 2 crore tonne a year in Punjab, as per the report of a Cabinet sub-committee set up to formulate a ‘comprehensive’ policy on sand mining. Sand is abundant, enough for need. But all the world’s sand cannot feed the bottomless pit of reckless greed. As we go deeper and deeper into the heart of the earth, we forget there will be gaping long-term repercussions. There will be a huge price to pay for this perfunctory attitude.
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