On asking for the way to the mining office on Dhangu road here, one gets a counter query from the vendors, "Official or private?". A huge bungalow of the crushers' union dominates the dilapidated mining wing office that currently grapples with the Punjab and Haryana high court notice on the reported illegal mining on the Ravi and Beas riverbeds.
Crusher owners had queued up at the mining general manager's office, filling up registration forms that many of them had never seen in the past, thanks to the cooperation of the district administration, mainly the mining officials.
Instead of taking any action under the Mining Act and the Indian Penal Code for encroaching upon and plundering the riverbeds, the officials were seen guiding them to fill up forms for taking mandatory approval from the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) for registration of the crushers.
"We are registering the crushers, but not allowing them to operate till they show their returns and other valid documents," said Pathankot mining general manager Dharam Pal. He, however, said they were "in the process of writing" to the electricity department to cut connections of the illegal crushers.
The team from the Chandigarh mining office on Monday continued its "inspection" to enlist the legal and illegal crushers, for Tuesday's meeting to be chaired by the deputy commissioner for a follow-up action, a senior official from Pathankot said.
Berian and Keerian clusters of the crushers installed on the Ravi banks or riverbeds and Meerthal along the Chakki river face the charges of illegal mining at these sites under the garb of "just crushing the stone consignments" from Jammu and Kashmir.
One such crusher owner, Vijay Passi, who is said to be the chief of crusher owners along the Chakki river, told HT that he had submitted 60 forms on Friday and 25-30 on Thursday of different crushing sites for registration.
Pinning hopes on CM
Passi narrated how he had met chief minister Parkash Singh Badal "about a month and a half ago" for resolving the problems faced by crusher owners. "We had met the chief minister and he assured us that things would improve, but we are still facing problems," Passi said.
210 crushers under scanner
As per the earlier probe report in the wake of the HT's reporting on illegal mining last month, there were a total of 210 crushers, a majority of them illegally installed right into the riverbeds.
Crusher owners have verbally been asked to get registration after due approval from the PPCB. "Those found in the wrong will be booked under the Mining Act and also under Section 379 of the IPC (for theft of sand and gravel)," Vishav Bandhu, senior official in the mining wing of the industries department, said.
He, however, could not explain as to why no action had been taken against the culprits despite the high court notices.
The industries department is bound to submit its reply by October 23 in the Punjab and Haryana high court that had served a two-week notice to the state on the HT news reports on October 9.
PPCB executive engineer Paramjit Singh posted at Pathankot confirmed that the process of approval was on. He said the PPCB would undertake the physical inspection required for such approvals.
Mining on Chakki
The crushers installed along the Chakki river were visible from the Pathankot-Jalandhar national highway. A closer look exposed how these units had plundered the earth for boulders, gravel and sand under the garb of crushing the stones arriving from outside.
Bandhu, in his earlier probe report as well, had pointed out, "These crushers are installed at the sites with high potential for mining."
Far away, in the deputy commissioner's office, DC C Sibin supervised the ongoing inspections. "A lot depends on the mining authorities, and the officials of the departments concerned like forest, whose lands are encroached upon," he said.
When asked why these illegal crushers were not sealed, Sibin said this would "surely be done" after the completion of the inquiry by the visiting team.
In this wait-and-watch situation, the trucks carrying fresh stocks of gravel and sand from the riverbeds could be seen in the dark at the Dasuya checkpost, throwing the so-called ban of the crushers to the wind.
The waters seeping from the trucks at the excise and taxation naka clearly showed that the consignments were from the crusher sites.
The general manager, mining, said, "Those were already crushed gravel and on way to the consumers' end with no illegality."