Coming down heavily on the Punjab government for taking illegal mining lightly, the Punjab and Haryana high court on Monday said "very soon there will be an organised mining mafia in Punjab".
The division bench comprising justices Rajive Bhalla and Rekha Mittal was hearing a case in which the high court had taken suo motu cognisance of a letter addressed by members of the Youth Congress, Phillaur, seeking a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into illegal mining in the state.
Observing that the Ludhiana deputy commissioner (DC) had failed to file his response to the notice issued by the court and also the action taken on newspaper reports about illegal mining, justice Bhalla said, "This is very serious and we are going to issue contempt against the DC."
Anguished over the lacklustre approach by the authorities, the bench said, "We want the truth, if you want to save yourself from contempt and suspension. Otherwise we are going to suspend everyone involved."
Commenting on newspaper reports placed before the court by the complainants, the court said, "These can't be manufactured news and photos showing JCBs in the middle."
The petitioners have also attached news reports by Hindustan Times on illegal mining in the state and threats to whistleblowers, including 'Whistleblower fears for life, awaits security' (April 15).
Issuing directions to the Ludhiana DC and the mining officer, Ludhiana, to file detailed replies on the next date of hearing, the court made it clear that if they failed to do so or the reply was found to be misleading, the court would be constrained to pass appropriate orders.
During the hearing of the case, Mahesh Khanna, general manager-cum-mining officer, Ludhiana, filed an affidavit, but the court observed that the "affidavit is evasive and doesn't answer the questions put by the court." However, the court was informed that the Ludhiana DC was on leave and could not file his reply.
7 flying squads, 9 police pickets constituted
In his affidavit, Khanna informed the court that seven flying squads under the police and nine police pickets had been constituted at sensitive points for checking illegal mining and daily reports were being received by the special investigation team (SIT). It was informed that as per the SIT's direction, deep pits had been dug at most places at entry points of illegal quarries so as to curb illegal mining.
Khanna also submitted that complaints regarding Madhepur village in Ludhiana had been sent to the police and an FIR had been registered against culprits, into which a probe was underway. But the officer said that in the villages of Sidhwan Bet, Kotmana and Bhundri, which he had inspected, there was no illegal mining of sand and these villages were far from the river.
The court was also informed that 15 small quarries (below 5 hectares) had been cleared by the district-level committee for mining and these would be operational after getting requisite clearance.