While the Mohali district administration is now waking up to the rampant illegal sand mining in the foothills of the Shivaliks, four feisty local residents have taken upon themselves the task of saving the foothills from ecological disruption.
Bhag Singh (67) from Abhipur village, Sher Mohammad Khan (65) from Khizrabad village, Sardara Singh (70) from Handesra village, and Squadron Leader Gulzar Singh (retd) (85), from Ghazipur Jattan in Dera Bassi have waged a relentless battle against the sand mafia for the last few years.
Agitated over the continuous movement of trucks carrying “illegally” extracted sand and gravel from the farmlands located at their villages, the local residents in Kharar Tehsil’s Dulwan Khadri and Khizarabad villages had stopped and seized over a dozen such vehicles Friday night.
Bhag Singh (67) from Abhipur
“I will not give up. No matter if I am killed by mafia’s bullet or crushed under a tipper carrying sand. I will continue to breathe down the necks of the state government and the sand sharks,” says a determined Bhag Singh, showing the injury marks after he was attacked on May 29, soon after a team assigned by the National Green Tribunal (NGT), inspected Abhipur village.
A retired Lance Naik from Army who later served as a Head Constable in the Punjab Police, Bhag Singh started his fight nine years ago. He went to the police, the Mohali administration, Forest Department, knocked at the door of the High Court and finally the NGT in February this year. He managed to move the system a little and 24 cases of illegal sand mining were registered until June 15. The case in the HC is still on, “I have a lot of hope from NGT. The way they sent a team, it seems something will come out,” said Bhag Singh.
He added, “The area has premium quality gravel. That attracted the mafia in this region. They dug everything-from fields to village shamlat (common) land. They went as deep as 50 feet leaving deep craters in the fields, turning several of these barren and thereby disturbing the ecological balance. The forest hills are home to a number of rare birds species but the cacophony of massive mining operations is threatening their existence.
“Our crops are affected as a fine layer of sand gets deposited on the foliage, affecting photosynthesis. Water table is going down due to washing of gravel by crusher owners. Roads are forever damaged as 1,000 tippers use this road everyday. And everybody is coughing due to pollution,” he said.
Sher Mohammad Khan (65) from Khizrabad
Sher Mohammad Khan, popularly known as Sher Khan, is now a lone crusader in Khizrabad. “When we started fighting I had a group of people. Rest all have a share in the mining pie. Some even own stone crushers. I was offered Rs 5 lakh, but I refused.’’
Both Bhag Singh and Sher Khan have faced criminal cases, which they alleged were registered to silence them. While Bhag Singh was booked for assault, rioting on May 30, Sher Khan was booked for allegedly outraging the modesty of a woman and trespassing in 2017.
He was arrested for 25 days and is still fighting the case. Bhag Singh said out of 90 families in the village, about 10-15 are involved in the trade directly. The massive mining operations whipped up the economy of these villages, “The area that was known for being underdeveloped saw mushrooming of big houses, expensive cars and mining machinery. People started getting rich and village started turning poor.”
Sardara Singh from Handesra
Sardara Singh, who retired from Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) as a Divisional Engineer in 2004, lives in Handesra village, of Dera Bassi, on the banks of the Ghaggar. He claims he raised the issue of illegal mining with the district authorities several times but to no avail. “I stopped many people from digging the land all by myself. That saved prime land in our villages, but now nobody listen to us. I am now educating people. I meet college students and make them aware about the ill effects of the illegal mining, people do listen to me but they are scared of coming forward,” he added.
Gulzar Singh (85) from Ghazipur
Gulzar Singh has been fighting this battle for last three years despite his poor health. “I have gone to the authorities numerous times bit without any results. Now, the Guardians of Governance (GoG) have given a report about illegal mining in the area and I am hopeful of action,” he said.