Despite repeated declarations by the district administration about the crackdown, illegal sand mining is going on unabated near Zirakpur area and Kakrali village, which has a population of around 1,800, has emerged as a favourite hotspot.
In the last two months, the district police have registered 20 cases of illegal mining. But, Kakrali village, located on the banks of river Ghaggar near Mubarikpur, some 6 km from Zirakpur town, presents an interesting challenge to the state’s losing battle against illegal mining — alleged involvement of local residents.
For 69-year-old Sewa Singh, a resident of Mubarikpur village, sand-laden tipper trucks that go through his village are a common sight. The trucks, loaded with freshly dug-up sand, come from the direction of Kakrali village. “There is always water dripping from the trucks. That is an indication that it is freshly-dug sand. I can see at least 50 trucks crossing our village road in the early hours every day,” Sewa said.
A government-approved crusher zone for gravel is also located near Kakrali, under cover of which, Sewa and other villagers say that trucks ferry sand illegally. A few weeks ago, however, there was a new twist in the Kakrali story. An illegal bridge came up on the river bed. The bridge has been made by laying six large cemented pipes on the river bed, which has then been covered with layers of earth.
This bridge, allege some villagers, was built by the mining mafia so that their trucks could cross the river bed faster and easily. But, ask newly-elected sarpanch Jaswinder Singh about the bridge, he says the village needs the bridge. He also denies any illegal mining in the village.
A day after officials from drainage department, led by Sub-divisional Officer (SDO) Raghav Garg visited the village on January 8 (after it was reported in Chandigarh Newsline) and ordered removal of the illegal construction, a delegation of villagers met Derabassi Sub-divisional Magistrate (SDM) Pooja Siyal and told her that it had been made with their “consent” and it helps them access their fields located on the other side of the river.
“We met Derabassi SDM and gave her a memorandum that we need a proper road so that we could go to our fields,” said Jaswinder Singh, who is from the Congress party. The bridge came up around two months ago.
Jaswinder claimed it was a “long-pending demand” of the village. “We constructed it at our own level,” he said. He was, however, not clear about who exactly from the village was involved in the construction. There is no panchayat resolution for such a bridge. No permissions have been taken or granted for the bridge. But Jaswinder brushed away all suggestions of illegality.
A visit to the bridge during day reveals that villagers indeed use it. Tractors and bullock carts were crossing over. However, the presence of tipper trucks and some JCB machines parked near houses in the village are a giveaway.
“What it means is that many people in the village are involved in this activity,” said a Kakrali resident who wished not to be named.
According to the witnesses, the illegal miners operate at the night and that is when the bridge sees the most traffic as tippers go up and down ferrying the sand out. The illegally-mined sand is said to be sold in market for Rs 25,000 to 26,000 per tipper truck, while a tipper of illegally-mined gravel costs Rs 30,000.
A Kakrali villager, who has a small business in Mubarikpur, alleged that a police naka, set up at the entry of the village last year, is no longer there. In March 2018, the district mining department issued 45 notices to the residents of Kakrali village after it was found that many farmers gave up their agricultural land to the illegal miners on lease for digging up sand.
“On inspection, we found that the fields were dug up to 30 to 40-feet deep. As per our directions digging up to 10 feet (3 m) is allowed. After the inspection, our department issued the notices to the farmers. The farmers then paid fine, depending upon the quantity of sand dug up from the fields,” district mining officer Simarpreet Kaur Dhillon told Chandigarh Newsline, adding that a case was recently registered against one Naunihal Singh who has a chunk of land in Kakrali village where illegal mining had taken place.
Mohali Deputy Commissioner (DC) Gurpreet Kaur Sapra said that she had directed the mining department to take action against illegal mining. “I will ask the Derabassi SDM about the issue in Kakrali village and if any illegal activity is going on, I will take action against the offenders,” she said.
Mohali Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Kuldeep Singh Chahal said that they registered FIRs whenever they received any complaint of illegal mining in the district. When asked why the police naka was shifted from Kakrali village to another place, the SSP said that it was done as there were complaints from Mubarikpur side, but he would review the decision.
Vigilance Bureau (VB) is also investigating illegal mining in Kakrali after Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh marked an inquiry last year. A VB officer told Chandigarh Newsline that during their probe they found that the illegal mining took place in the fields of some residents of Kakrali village and on the bed of Ghaggar river.
“The probe is still on. The agency will soon submit its report,” the officer said.