A bridge too far

Agampur symbolises havoc wreaked by sand mining

A bridge too far

The hazards of uncontrolled and illegal sand mining in Punjab is obvious from the report that the Agampur bridge on the Sutlej river near Anandpur Sahib is on the verge of collapse. Reports about the condition of the bridge come amid the buzz that the state government is planning to decontrol the mining business to deflect allegations of being hand in glove with the sand mafia. The condition of the Agampur bridge has been highlighted regularly over the years with details of the damage wrought by the mafia, resulting in the sand around the piers — the main support upon which the structure rests — getting washed away, weakening it as it increases the flow of water due to the deepening of the riverbed. The mafia is known to set up nakas around quarrying sites and lay pathways to regulate the flow of water and facilitate the movement of heavy machinery like excavators and tippers, also damaging power supply poles. In 2018, AAP MLA Amarjit Singh Sandoa was assaulted by the sand mafia in Ropar, a couple of days after a similar incident involving forest department officials in Mohali. That the activity is carried on with impunity is indicative of the links those in the business have.

While the bridge has been described as safe, the state government wishes to rebut the charge of political patronage by throwing open the business. A section is believed to be unhappy, left out of the trade as it is, with mining business in the state being controlled by only a few contractors. Norms will still have to be adhered to, but it is hoped that it will help check illegal mining. But while rules have always been there, whether they are observed in letter or spirit is what matters.

There is apprehension that decontrolling will raise the prices of sand and gravel and endanger the environment. But the Agampur bridge remains symptomatic of the damage caused even earlier. The government should make those handling the business accountable for the damage to the surroundings and attacks on officials and provide its departments the wherewithal to put a leash on illegal activities.

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