In May last year, the Punjab government formed a special investigation team (SIT) on the Punjab and Haryana high court’s orders “to unearth and identify persons” behind illegal mining that was apparently not possible “without significant financial, administrative and political support”. The excavation of truth is still on, even as mining goes on unabated.
In October, the high court took suo motu notice of an expose by Hindustan Times on the plundering of the river Ravi in Pathankot and asked the state administration to respond in two weeks. The plunder is still on there too, though the case has been disposed of with due directions from the court to curb the menace.
At least 20 FIRs are pending against crusher-owners of Pathankot that also include those exposed by HT, official sources here said. The court had disposed of the Pathankot case after the police submitted its report that 115 of the 132 crusher-owners had come clean by showing relevant documents related to stocks earlier detected as illegal.
PIL IN HIGH COURT
The legal aspect had cropped up in November 2012, when Gurbir Singh Pannu, who is into mining business, moved a public interest litigation demanding regulation of mining.
There was another petition filed in the HC last year that highlighted the mafia patronising the illegal trade, and that crusher-owners who refused to pay extortion money were not able to operate.
It was, however, on Pannu’s petition that the court of justice Rajive Bhalla had asked the state to
constitute the SIT in May 2013.
This SIT formed under inspector general of police (IGP) Nirmal Singh Dhillon, with senior superintendent of police (SSP) Inder Mohan Singh and senior mining official Vishav Bandhu as members, has so far submitted three reports.
Dissatisfied, the high court on December 18 gave four weeks to the SIT to finish the probe into the role and identification of the mafia, giving it a last opportunity.
On February 18, 2014, the court observed that “the SIT has not reached any conclusion”. Five months on, the SIT still exists, without reaching any conclusion on the task given to it.
AG ACKNOWLEDGED POLITICAL LINK
During the last hearing in the court of the then chief justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul on May 20, 2014, Punjab’s advocate general Ashok Aggarwal had acknowledged involvement of policemen, officers and politicians in the illegal mining racket worth crores of rupees. He had even said that “society doesn’t treat illegal extraction of minor minerals as sinful, since need of sand is there”.
“It is a fact that for a legal slip of 1,000 feet sand tipper, 10 tippers pass illegally. There is no doubt that there are men in uniform, government officers, political persons and financers of these tippers involved. But registration of FIRs has to start from land owners and then to the next step,” he had said.
The court then opined for drastic increase in fine and ordered the AG as well as petitioner Pannu’s counsel to sit together and work out a procedure within two months, including fixing of minor mineral price, for ensuring legal mining in view of the larger public interest. The SIT was asked to continue probing the illegal mining.
The chief secretary has now to file a reply by September 30 on the court’s directive and also to certain suggestions made by the petitioner (in box).
SILENCE OF THE STATE
The chief secretary, when contacted, put the onus “to explain the entire matter” on the principal secretary, industries, DP Reddy. Reddy, in turn, said he would be able talk on the issue after two days, saying he was on leave. The SIT chief, IG Dhillon, told HT that he was ill and thus unable to speak on the issue.
SIT member, additional director, industries, Vishav Bandhu, said he did not have an update as he was still on a month-long leave, and would talk on the issue after August 1. The officiating director, S Purusaratha, could not be contacted.