A VISIT to Khijrabaad, Kubbaheri, Hirdapur and Mianpur Jhangar can surprise anyone with a common sight of tippers parked at most of the houses. The tippers usually belong to rich farmers of these villages and the farmers are reaping dividends by renting out the tippers to the mining contractors. One can find the tippers parked in daytime which indicates that the contractors who take these tippers on rent work at night for illegal mining, a fact attested to by locals.
The area where the illegal mining is going on unabated falls under Majri block in Kharar sub-division. Significantly, there is no legal mining site in the area approved by the government. There are a total of 12 mining sites in the district and all the sites fall in Derabassi Sub-Division, district mining officer Chaman Lal Garg told Chandigarh Newsline.
“The mining at the approved sites was stopped as the government wants to float new tenders. The mining will be started after auction at the sites. Earlier, we had eight mining sites in the district. Now four new sites have been identified,” Garg added.
Deputy Commissioner Gurpreet Kaur Sapra visited the affected villages on July 15 along with her team to check the illegal mining after the residents of Khijrabaad lodged a complaint with her. She accused the lower ranked officers of keeping her in the dark about the illegal practice. She sent a report to the Punjab Pollution Control Board and also sent a report to the government to take action against some of the officials.
The residents of the village apprised the DC of their problems and consequences due to illegal mining. The residents also alleged that they wanted to carry out a protest against the administration. They also alleged that they wanted the village sarpanch to be booked but instead of taking any action, officers asked them to keep quiet.
During the visit, the DC found that as many as 35 crushers were present at Khijrabaad village. When she asked her junior officers about the crushers, nobody could reply satisfactorily. Even the DC wondered about the high number of crushers in the area.
After the DC’s report, the mining department sent notices to 20 crusher owners and seven crushers were sealed. The DC claimed that she had sent a detailed report and was awaiting the reply of the government for further action.
“We will take appropriate action once we get a communication from the government. Whosoever is found guilty will not be spared,” she said.
A day after the DC’s visit, when Chandigarh Newsline visited the area, the mining was going on unabated. The crushers were present at the spot and the fresh marks of tyres of trucks suggested that the illegal practice was not stopped. The residents of the villages also demanded that the administration should start a helpline at the local level so that they could lodge complaints immediately.
After all the hue and cry by the district administration, nothing has changed on the ground; the illegal mining still goes on unabated in the area. The local residents term the DC’s visit an eyewash and allege that the mining contractors have ruined the farmers and forced them to sell their land at cheaper rates.
Harpreet Singh, a Kubbaheri resident, said that whenever they lodge any complaint, the officers reach late at the spot and the miners manage to flee. He added that there is no proper mechanism for lodging complaints against illegal mining.
“Illegal mining is a crime. There are helplines for lodging complaints. The administration should also start a 24-hour helpline so that we can lodge complaints whenever it is required. With such a mechanism we would also have a record of the complaints we lodged, “ he said.
Sher Mohammad, a resident of Khijrabaad who took on the mining mafia many times, told Chandigarh Newsline that the mining contractors came to the area around three years ago after the mining stopped in Zirakpur and Derabassi area and dug up the forest land as deep as 40 to 50 feet which has turned the fields into ponds.
“Four years ago, there was forest near our village. We have never seen anybody taking sand from the area but now it looks that if these people are not stopped, they will not leave even a gram of the sand and destroy the forest. Nobody takes any action against them despite knowing what is going on. When we lodge any complaint the next day, we receive a call from the people threatening us with dire consequences,” he added.
Sher Mohammad, whose wife is a panchayat member of the village, said that he met the senior officer of mining department and PPCB in the last three years with photographs of JCBs and crushers in the area but not a single crusher was stopped.
“Everyone is hand in glove. Nobody listens to us. The officials kept mum even after knowing that there are no approved mining sites in the area. How can we let them ruin our eco-system? We have been living here for years and now they have ruined our natural resources,” Sher Mohammaed said.
After finding no help from the administration, the local youths decided to form a group to stop the tippers passing through the village at night. The youths too allege that they were threatened by the goons with dire consequences.
“Ever since we caught a tipper loaded with sand at our village on the night of July 14, I have been receiving threatening calls from some unknown persons. First, they tried to lure me with some offers of making money. When I refused, they threatened me with dire consequences,” said Gurwinder Singh, a Khijrabaad resident, who is one of the group members.
Explaining the problem, Gurwinder Singh said that the mining starts around 7 pm and goes on till 8 am everyday. He added that even in the monsoon season, the mining does not stop which has turned their fields into ponds as water fills up in the dug-up fields during monsoon.
“Throughout the night the tippers ply on the village roads. The roads cannot bear the load which creates problems for the residents. We are so helpless that we cannot lodge a complaint as nobody is ready to listen to us,” he said.
Gurwinder Singh alleged that the panchayat members of some of the villages were also involved in the scam as they have rented out the tippers to the contractors and earn good share from the mafia.
Barely 3 kilometres away from Khijrabaad, the situation is even worse at Mianpur Jhangar village. After the DC’s visit on July 15, the mining was going on in the village the very next day. Most of the residents of the village are farmers and have small land holdings; the village has a population of around 1,400. They cannot use their land for commercial purpose as the land falls under the Punjab Land Protection Act (PLPA). The farmers alleged that the mining contractors are forcing them to sell their lands.
Gurmeet Singh, a village resident, said that he owns nine acres of land and some months ago, a mining contractor started mining in a nearby field. He added that the contractor dug up the field up to 30 feet deep which is now troubling him.
“With the field dug up, whenever I irrigate my field, it caves in towards the dug-up area. I could not plough it as it is dangerous to drive a tractor near the dug-up field. If the earth caves in, the tractor could fell in the deep pit. Now the contractor is asking me to sell my field to him at a cheaper rate. This is how these contractors are ruining farmers. If this is not stopped, more farmers will suffer in the coming months. We have never seen this in the past,” Gurmeet told Chandigarh Newsline.
He said that he is not alone; there are some other farmers who are facing the same problem. Asserting that the sand mafia has dug up the hills near their village, Gurmeet alleged that the goons of the sand mining contractors come at their tubewells and drink and create a nuisance. Whenever the villagers object to it, they get threats and even beatings from the goons.
Deshveer Singh Bhullar, who owns a farm near Mianpur Jhangar village, said that the entire land in the area falls under the PLPA. As per rules, nobody is allowed to do any commercial activity on the land but strangely the mining is being done every day.
“Only agricultural activities can be done on the land, but it is strange that the officers concerned never checked this activity,” he said.
Speaking further about the problems due to illegal mining, Bhullar, who is working on an agricultural project in Mangolia, said that if the mining goes on unabated, the entire eco-system of the area will be destroyed. He added that there are various varieties of reptiles and animals and with the continuous mining, the animals will either die or come towards villages and create problems for the people.
Kadhial Singh (69), a resident of Mianpur Jhangar village, alleged that they had many times met the officials and told them about their problems but nobody came to their rescue. He added that the farmers of the villages were the worst sufferers.
“The road connecting our village to the main road was constructed around a year ago but the overloaded tippers destroyed the entire road. We cannot drive our tractors to go to our fields. During rain, we cannot even drive a two-wheeler. We cannot explain our plight due to the illegal mining in our villages. The mafia has dug up the entire hills in the area. They axed hundreds of trees illegally. The administration is sleeping. The lower rank officers are working for the sand mafia by informing them in advance about any raid of senior officers. What can we farmers do? We fear for our children as these goons come to threaten us whenever we decide to stop their tippers or their crushers,” Singh said.
Residents approached Vigilance Bureau
The residents of Khijrabaad also approached the Vigilance Bureau. Sher Mohammad said that he lodged a complaint with the investigating agency and asked them to measure the shamlat land (village common land) where the mining is going on. Alleging that the mining is going on illegally in private land, he said the problem is that the contractors have grabbed the shamlat land and dug it up. He added that acting on his complaint, the VB has got the land measured and found that his allegations were correct. He added that he will meet the senior VB officials and demand action against culprits.
“I have named some officials including patwaris of our areas in my complaint who have changed the records and measurements of shamlat land to help the miners. I have mentioned in my complaint that action should be taken against these officers as they are the main culprits. I came to know from some of the officers in VB that the investigation is in an advanced stage,” Sher Mohammad added.
Sources in the VB said that they had asked the local officers to submit the records pertaining to the land mentioned in the complaint by Sher Mohammad.