AAP attempts to quell sand mafia with baby step in Punjab

With setting up 16 public sand mining sites and 50 more such outlets set to come up across the state shortly, the AAP government in Punjab has begun its bit to crush the sand mafia;  its resolve notwithstanding, a humongous challenge stares at it, reports Rajesh Moudgil

 Launching an initiative to fulfil one more AAP poll promise, the Punjab chief minister Bhagwant Mann dedicated about a week ago, 16 public mining sites from Ludhiana, spread over seven districts to ensure supply of cheap sand and gravel to the people. He said 50 more such outlets would be opened in all other parts of the state by next month.

Speaking on the occasion, he highlighted his government’s steps to eradicate the sand mafia which, he said, had flexed its muscles in the past monopolising the illegal business and leading to a steep hike in sand prices. That a nexus involving politicians has been flourishing, especially in the wake of mindless urbanisation for which construction material such as sand and gravel has been in a great demand across the state, is an open secret.

Back home, the AAP government now plans to ensure that the sand from these public mining sites would be strictly regulated, only to be sold for use in construction of non-commercial projects and that the sand sale would happen only till sunset and a government official would be present to regulate the extraction of sand at each public mining site.

Mann said that the state government had also built an App which would give complete information to people about public mining sites and would even facilitate online payments. According to Mann’s plans, the operation of the mines would be completely a transparent process as CCTV cameras had been installed at the sites to keep 24 hours surveillance on them. He said that apart from this, police patrolling would be ensured on these public sites to keep a check over it.

Mann referred to the sand mafia that he held, flourished during the previous government regimes and said that it would no longer be able to exploit the people. He went on to say that those who had minted illegal money through the sand mines would be held accountable for their misdeeds. Listing out the poll promises fulfilled so far by the AAP government which took over about 10 months ago, he said that while it had eliminated the transport mafia, free power was being provided to 87% households of the state since July, 2022, more than 26,000 government jobs given, 500 Aam Aadmi clinics set up and the schools of eminence were being set up.

Steep challenge ahead

However, the state government’s resolve notwithstanding, there seems to be a humongous task ahead for the state AAP government to quell the criminal nexus of illegal mining, given its scale across the state. According to reports, illegal mining has been rampant in several parts of the state till a few months ago, even despite a ban on the river sand mining during the monsoon season.

In several rural interiors, mindless mining has led to vanishing of the rural roads, badly damaged bridges foundations, besides taking its toll on the farm fields. It was in this wake that the state government had also got a flak by the Punjab and Haryana high court.

The high court had also pointedly said that leniency could not be shown in the cases of illegal mining as it had an irreparable adverse effect on the environment and caused colossal loss for the generation to come. The menace was besides registration of hundreds of police cases against illegal mining in different parts of the state.

And it was in this wake that AAP, especially its then chief ministerial candidate Bhagwant Mann had flagged the gravity of illegal business and made a promise to quell it so as to bring down the sand prices. He had repeatedly claimed during his electioneering that a regulated sand mining would fetch Rs 28,000 crore to state exchequer and that if voted to power AAP would regulate it.

A little earlier, even though the rampant illegal mining was a known fact, the same assumed gravity when fingers were raised during the Congress’ rule the then chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi himself, especially after the enforcement directorate (ED) conducted raids at his nephew Bhupinder Singh Honey and recovered Rs 10 crore, gold worth Rs 21 lakh and an expensive watch worth Rs 12 lakh.

Earlier, the former chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh had publicly admitted involvement of several Congress legislators in the illegal mining. He had flagged this issue while quitting Congress in his resignation letter addressed to the party leader Sonia Gandhi. “As far as the issue of illegal sand mining is concerned the offenders unfortunately were the substantive bulk of Congress MLAs and ministers, including an overwhelming number in the current government’’, he had written!

Situation grim in Haryana too

Situation in neighbouring Haryana is grimmer, as illegal mining of river-bed sand in and around rivers including Yamuna, Ghaggar, Markanda and Tangri is a common place. This is aside from the illegal mining of stones in the Mewat and some parts of south Haryana.

It may be recalled that it was in July last year that a deputy superintendent of police (DSP) investigating illegal stone mining was run over and killed by a dumper-truck driver and his accomplices before fleeing in the Tauru area of Nuh district.

The Tauru area DSP Surender Singh had gone along with his team on a raid to check the illegal mining in the Aravali hills in Pachgaon area near Tauru when he along with two policemen – a gunman and driver – spotted the dumper-truck on the said spot and when he signalled it to stop so as to check its documents, the vehicle driver instead, sped up and ran over them. Though the two cops jumped to a side to save their lives, the DSP was fatally hit.

It is pertinent to mention here that Nuh district is notorious for illegal mining as well as attacks on cops by the members of the mining mafia who, sources in police say, have standing instructions never to stop for any checking but to run over the cops in case of any interception.

However, despite such incidents, the Haryana mining department continues to be gravely understaffed to effectively check the illegal mining business. According to reports, most of the posts of mining inspectors are vacant in the state making the existing mining inspectors to toil hard to check the illegal mining across the state. Likewise, while a large number of posts of mining guards remain vacant,  several posts of mining officers are also yet to be filled. The officials, who did not want to be named, also say that there has also been an acute shortage of vehicles in absence of which the department staff found it difficult to effectively check the illegal mining in the state.