The uncontrolled illegal mining along the Sutlej and Swan rivers and other water channels in Rupnagar district caught the attention of the National Management Disaster Authority (NMDA) as a matter of grave concern as the issue was raised by the officials concerned at a state-level review meeting here on Thursday.
Rupnagar deputy commissioner Tanu Kashyap set the ball rolling, highlighting the presence of a huge number of stone crushers on the river beds and illegal mining taking place along the rivers, choes and nullahs that, she added, were leading to flood waters entering settlement areas.
"The problem is manmade, and there have been complaints from public (against the illegal mining activities)," she said in her power-point presentation, highlighting the zones vulnerable to flash floods in the absence of any channelisation of the Swan river.
Hindustan Times had earlier done a series on illegal mining occurring along the Sutlej and Swan rivers, with even the plundering of the river for sand beneath the bridges in Agampur, Dus Graian, Kalma Mor and other areas in Anandpur Sahib and Nangal blocks.
NDMA member Kamal Kishore from Delhi, who chaired the meeting, was also informed by the Punjab officials that the existing central laws and rules and regulations on mining were too "complicated" to be implemented.
Punjab secretary, revenue-cum-director of disaster management, Samir Kumar, and secretary, irrigation, KS Pannu, pointed out the implications of the recently amended Mining Act, according to which the states depended on the union ministry of environment and forests to get clearances that caused delays and other complications in notifying the quarries and making them function effectively.
A snub to PWD wing
The NDMA member took an exception to the state's PWD turning up blank at the review meeting, as its representative chief engineer Ravinder Singh said the department had no proposal as such on disaster management as it was working "in coordination with other departments".
"I am surprised that the PWD does not have to say anything as it has a central role to play," Kamal Kishore said. "The infrastructure that Punjab will have in 2050, 60% of it is yet to be built by the PWD," Kishore said.
He also asked the senior Punjab officials to ensure that the local governments at the municipal corporation and municipal committee levels were following the building bylaws keeping in mind the safety during an earthquake.
Revenue secretary Samir Kumar earlier underlined the need for sufficient trained manpower for effective disaster response, demanding Rs 25 crore as central funds. The funds were required for flood control/earthquakes, health-related equipment/medicines stock, boats, fire tenders, building jack equipment, national school safety programme, disaster risk reduction strategies, hazard risk vulnerability, resource mapping and data collection inventories.
He said the state government had decided to set up five regional emergency operation centres at Amritsar, Ludhiana, Bathinda, Ferozepur and Jalandhar equipped with sophisticated equipment loaded in ready-to-move special trucks, jeeps and motorcycles to deal with different types of disasters, including road accidents.
Inspector general of police (provisioning) Praveen Kumar Sinha highlighted that the battalions kept reserved for meeting the challenges of disaster be engaged in policing in routine, as just keeping them as standby for years would rust them.