‘Goonda tax’ legalised in name of inactive quarries

  • Prabhjit Singh, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Apr 19, 2014 07:49 IST

Here is a tip for Punjab’s special investigation team (SIT) probing the mafia role in the mining trade for almost a year now: visit the official quarries in Rupnagar that remain non-operational, even as royalty receipts are being issued for the shipping of raw material shown as extracted from there.

The extortionists adopt this modus operandi to facilitate illegal quarrying from hidden landscapes along the riverbanks, and to bring raw mineral (sand and gravel) to the crushers, presently the points of collecting their “royalty” or “goonda (rogue) tax”.

The crushed consignments are then given a safe exit after looking at these fake receipts. One of these quarries at Kiratpur Sahib, auctioned legally and operational on papers, has no sign of digging on the banks of the water channel coming in from the Bhakra dam project several miles uphill.

The weighbridge for the loaded 23-foot-long tippers at the site was less than 12-foot long. HT procured the receipts showing the sand/gravel that was loaded and weighed there.

At Diyapur, was another weighbridge that could barely support a tractortrailer. “First the trailer is weighed and then the tractor (on these weighbridges),” chuckled the man who providing HT with the receipts on the condition of anonymity.

The Kiratpur Sahib receipt read 6.1 tonnes, and the Diyapur receipt 17 tonnes but both carried the royalty fee of ` 1 only. The actual money collected against these two “royalty” receipts for the consignments quarried illegally from somewhere else should be at least Rs 1,250 for 6 tonnes and Rs 3,541 for 17 tonnes, looking at the Rs 125 “royalty” rate floating in the state at present.

Besides Kiratpur and Diyapur, the other official sites auctioned in January 2014 for two years of operation were Surewal, Bhalan, and Palasi.

Have the mining wing officials of the industries department ever inspected or visited these quarries that are in operation officially? Upon the question, Punjab principal secretary for industries Karan A Singh said he was unaware of the status of these quarries.

“I will check with the mining wing,” he said.

He said he had ordered an inquiry based on HT’s mining mafia series. Nobody in the mining wing would talk, except for joint director Vishav Bandhu, who said the deputy commissioners were the ones accountable for inspection and the final authority to sanction the quarry operations as heads of districtlevel mining committees.

Rupnagar DC Pradeep Aggarwal said everything was “in order” at the quarry sites. Confronted on weighbridges, he said he had seen the raw material at Surewal weighed duly. “Rest ask mining officials,” he said.

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