Ropar, February 27
The whirring of a poclain machine digging a common grazing ground (charand in local parlance) in the Swan riverbed on Monday night alerted members of the Ilaqa Sangharsh Committee. They rushed to the spot (near Bhalan village) and tried to catch hold of the machine operator. He, however, managed to flee but the machine was seized by officials.
That was one of the 10 machines seized by the authorities in the past one month.
Locals had formed the committee last year after the mining mafia “grew big”, and increased the extraction of sand and stone from the rivers in the district, damaging bridges, roads and ecology.
ECONOMICS behind it
- Mining generates direct or indirect employment for thousands of people in Ropar district. Some are hired as machine operators and drivers, while some work as labourers at stone crusher units. Hundreds of others have built automobile repair shops and ‘dhabas’ outside stone crusher units.
- Besides, landowners have been earning crores of rupees by selling off their land situated on the riverbed. One acre of land in Agampur area is bought for up to Rs32 lakh by the mining mafia to extract sand and gravel.
Web of ‘goonda’ tax
- To avoid transportation charges and other expenses, stone crusher owners prefer lifting sand and gravel from an unauctioned area in collusion with landowners. As a result, construction material at auctioned sites (taken on contract) remain unsold.
- To make up for losses, the contractor in alleged connivance with politicians and officials set up illegal barricades and collect Rs4.25 per cubic ft as “royalty”, termed as “goonda” tax, from crusher owners.
Bridges in the Algran and Agampur areas face the threat of collapse because of rampant illegal mining.
The Swan and Sutlej riverbeds have been dug up till the piers of the bridges. Sand has been extracted through submersible pumps up to the depth of 80 ft, much beyond the permissible limit of 10 ft.
Scale of illegal excavation
5.33 lakh metric tonne Extraction allowed by govt every month
27 lakh metric tonne Material extracted illegally every month
100 stone crushers in Ropar district
90,000 tonnes Sand and gravel extracted every day
As a result, the level of underground water has dipped drastically in villages situated along the Sutlej and Swan — Harsa Bela, Mehandpur, Bhangal, Khera Kalmot, Majari lower, Haripur, Palata, Bhalan, Taraf Mazari, Nangran and Algran. Famers say they have to spend lakhs of rupees on new tubewells.
Experts point out that deep digging of the riverbed will pollute the underground water. According to geologist Jaspal Singh, the digging of riverbed to such level punctures the aquifer (underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock). That is the reason that the underground water emerges at mining sites, he says.
The unchecked mining and tippers overloaded with sand and gravel have also taken a toll on the infrastructure.
In 2020, Punjab State Transmission Corporation Limited had submitted an estimate that required Rs 1.2 crore to repair its 220 KV power supply line tower situated in the Sutlej riverbed near Anandpur Sahib.
Roads are lined with scores of tippers loaded with sand and gravel, day and night. Almost every link road in the district is in dilapidated condition as overloaded tippers ply on these roads to avoid toll plazas on highways.
To dig out more sand, the mafia has now started digging up fields and hills. A big part of the hilly area in the Shivalik range at Khera Kalmot and Kiratpur Sahib has already been dug up. Farmers are offered a hefty amount to let the mafia lift sand from their land.
Tikka Yashvir Chand, one of the founder members of the Ilaqa Sangharsh Committee, says: “In the past one year, the committee has helped officials seize dozens of machines and vehicles linked to illegal mining.” He further says illegal mining has been restricted to Bhalan area since the agitation by the committee in March last year. “Still, it could not be stopped completely.”
A former crusher owner facing allegations of illegal mining says, “Faulty policies of the state government are to blame. The state government fails to auction off sufficient number of quarries, creating shortage of construction material required by stone crushers and washing plant units. Not even a single quarry has been operational in Anandpur Sahib for years. Hundreds of crushers need material and this leads to illegal mining and corruption.”
Sartaj Singh, Ropar Executive Engineer (XEN), mining, says, “Whenever a case of illegal mining comes to the notice of my department, action is taken. Police complaints have been filed in more than 30 cases and the machinery seized. Investigation into nearly 50 complaints submitted last year is in progress.”
Most Read In 24 Hours
Don't MissView All
Earlier, the Enforcement Directorate had registered a case a...
The encounter breaks out between security forces and terrori...
Recovered drone found to be made in China
The issue was raised by Secretary of State Tony Blinken duri...