Mining mafias of Haryana and Punjab pose threat to region’s ecology

Despite Haryana government stepping up its drive against illegal mining, the mining mafia  continues to thrive in the state. On the other hand, Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann’s professed resolve to free the state from the menace seems easier said than done, writes Rajendra Khatry

The mining mafias across the country are known to be deadly. These mafias do not fear the law and are brazen in their nefarious activities. Often under the protection of politicians they have caused extensive and devastating damage to the ecology. 

It is a brutal truth that for more than two decades, the brazen illegal and mechanised mining activities across the country have been irreversibly affecting the rivers and river bank communities.

How ruthless and fearless these mafias can be came to light when a Haryana police officer of DSP rank was killed by a mining mafia near Nuh’s Pachgaon in the middle of last year. Taoru DSP Surendra Singh, who was probing illegal mining, died on the spot after being run over by a truck. His body was found in an open dumpster.

The incident took place when Surendra Singh had gone to conduct a raid at Taudu Hill after receiving a tip-off about alleged illegal mining. An eyewitness had reported that the DSP was standing near his official vehicle when he asked the dumper driver, who was allegedly carrying illegal quarrying equipment, to stop. But the driver didn’t stop and crushed the cop under his truck.

The driver escaped from the scene of crime but was later arrested from Rajasthan as the Haryana Police had launched an extensive manhunt to nab him. Haryana home minister Anil Vij had announced Rs 50 lakh compensation to the family of the deceased DSP.

According to reports emanating from various parts of the state, apart from Gurugram, Faridabad, Palwal and Nuh, stone mining is going on unabated in the Bhiwani-Mahendragarh region. In the last three years, the mafia attacked the teams of officers who came to stop illegal mining many times. 

From 2019 to 2022, 79 cases of assault on police personnel were registered in which 227 accused were arrested. According to Haryana police reports, as many as 60 police personnel were injured, while DSP Surendra Bishnoi was crushed to death by a dumper in Nuh.

Reacting to such incidents, the opposition has time and again blamed the coalition government, castigating it and questioning the law and order situation in the state. But now Home Minister of Haryana Anil Vij has decided  to act tough with mine mafias operating in the state. He told Karnal SP Gangaram Punia to deal strongly with the perpetrators of such crimes.

Incidentally, according to the Economic Survey of Haryana for 2021-22, tabled before the Haryana Legislative Assembly on March 8, 2022, a total of 21,450 illegal mining cases were detected in the state, including transportation of minerals without valid documents, from 2014-15 up to September 2021.  

Earlier the Haryana Government had proposed in the State Budget 2020-21 to deploy drones to check illegal mining. Unfortunately this has not materialized yet. According to reports, on an average, around eight cases of unauthorised mining are reported everyday in Haryana.

Despite the strictness of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and action taken by the Haryana government, the mining mafia has reportedly continued to thrive and carry out illegal mining activities in the state. According to reports, illegal mining is still going on in full swing in Gurugram, Palwal, Nuh, Faridabad, Bhiwani, Mahendragarh and Panchkula.

Apart from Aravalli, the mining mafia is taking out mining material worth crores of rupees every day in many parts of the state including Panchkula, Bhiwani and Mahendragarh in the most unscientific and illegal manner.

Incidentally, the NGT’s order of August 26, 2022 had raised hopes that illegal mining would be curbed in Haryana, but that did not happen. The Mines and Geology Department and the police could not succeed in stopping the illegal mining. 

According to Mines and Geology Minister Mool Chand Sharma, from July 1 to September 15, mining in the rivers was stopped. Mining had been closed in Faridabad, Gurugram since 2002 and in Nuh since 2009. The contractors responsible for illegal mining will be fined, he had stated.

Unfortunately the mining mafia is undeterred by any such government action. According to reports, the mafia is active these days in Ghaggar and Tangri river in Panchkula also. Illegal sand mining is also taking place on the banks of Yamuna.

Earlier Haryana Chief Secretary Sanjeev Kaushal directed all the Deputy Commissioners and Superintendents of Police to take immediate action against the illegal miners. 

The situation with regard to the illegal mining in Punjab has been equally bad like Haryana. The situation had remained critical in all previous governments, but seemed to have worsened during the Congress regime. 

Punjab is among leading states where state governments have failed to ensure sustainable sand mining practices. No wonder the 2019-20 overview of the state showed strong clout of political parties over the illegal sand mining operations without caring for the rivers and public and the damage done to the ecology.

The Aam Aadmi Party had promised in its election of 2022 that it will stop all illegal mining if it came to power in Punjab. The AAP government came to power and in April 2022 the Punjab government ordered a crackdown on mining mafia in Punjab. Crushers were sealed in Rupnagar (Ropar). 

Punjab Mines and Geology Minister Harjot Singh Bains said that the crushers were sealed after receiving complaints that illicit mining was damaging the ecology and causing losses to the state exchequer. Bains said that many influential people were given clean chits by the previous Congress government and no action was taken against them. 

Now to facilitate the public, Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann has dedicated 16 public mining sites to the people of the state. He said that sand would be available at a rate of Rs 5.50 per cubic feet. Mann said this will give a major respite to the people.

Only manual excavation of sand will be permitted in these public mining sites and no mechanical excavation of sand will be allowed, he said. No mining contractor will be allowed to operate in these public mining sites, Mann said. Sand from public mining sites will only be sold for use in construction of non-commercial projects. 

Former Punjab CM Capt Amarinder Singh had said earlier that he had received specific inputs that former Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi and several other Congress leaders had a share in the money earned by the sand mining mafia when he was in power.

According to Capt Amarinder Singh, “From top to bottom, right up to the level of senior ministers, many were involved in the illegal sand mining. I had told Sonia Gandhi about it while I was the chief minister. She had asked what action I was taking in the matter, and I told her that I would have to start from the top. The one and only mistake I made during my entire tenure was that I did not take any action at that time out of my sense of loyalty to the Congress and also because I did not get a go-ahead from Sonia Gandhi,” he had claimed.

Later, former Chief MInister Charanjit Singh Channi’s involvement in the mining mafia and in the #metoo incident tainted his reputation and the Congress was routed in the 2022 Punjab assembly elections making way for the AAP to come to power with a massive majority.