Last month, the public burnt their checkpoint at Bhanua village and the police chased them away from a few other places in the district but there’s no stopping the goons hired to collect the bad money in the illegal mining business.
Now the extortionists have entered the stone-crushing sites to continue with the collection in the name of “royalty”. The owners of some 190 crushers in this district alone as well as the tipper owners transporting sand and gravel pay this “goonda (rogue) tax” (in common parlance) willingly.
For every tipper of 750-cubicfeet capacity, the owner pays Rs 3,750, at Rs 5 per cubic feet, to the henchmen deployed at the crusher sites and at the entrance of muddy trails to these spots.
At the crushing sites (many with illegal quarries) of Algran, Agampur, Ghaunpur Khui, Alowal, Kheri, and Bharatgarh, it might lead to trouble, if the goons are confronted. Observing the silence, assuming the posture of “an officer from Chandigarh” somehow worked, as a young man at the entrance of a crusher site on the Sutlej banks near Bassi village handed over a small booklet of yellow receipts, explaining his job.
“We are required to hand over these receipts to the truck drivers after accepting the money, Sir,” said Sanju, wondering why the queries. One Balwinder Singh, referred to as “Billu” only, pays the henchmen Rs 3,000 a month, besides another Rs 100 as a daily allowance. While no crusher owner would come on record, Billu agreed to talk about the “justified royalty”.
“The crusher owners give it (royalty) to me by will; I do not force them to pay. This is our agreement,” he said. Billu was right, also when he said that “more than 90% of these sandgravel shipments are illegal”.
He said he issued “legal computerised slips to the crusher owners to show the consignments as legitimate. The slips, he claimed, showed that the truck load was extracted from a legal quarry.
So the money goes to whom? “This is the royalty we pay to the government,” he replied. Told that only the quarry owners could collect the royalty on their raw material, he said he collected it on their behalf. He refused to be photographed.
“If the government wants a clean business, then all the quarries, wherever feasible, should be legalised and there should be a price cap on the raw material in public interest,” he said.
Asked to react, senior superintendent of police Gurpreet Singh Toor said the crusher owners could forward a complaint, if the extortionists had invaded their premises after police raids on the open “nakas” (checkpoints). “We will take action against all,” he added.