The opposition Congress on Thursday made a scathing attack on the ruling Akali-BJP coalition for illegal mining and extortion activities in the state, strongly demanding price capping on these two construction commodities with immediate effect.
The matter came up for discussion on a resolution moved by industries minister Madan Mohan Mittal, for pressing hard the Centre to give timely environmental clearances for the quarries already auctioned for functioning.
The debate unfolded with the minister citing several litigations pending in the Punjab and Haryana high court that led to the ban on mining and, thus, "illegal mining spreading to meet the demand".
Leader of opposition Sunil Jakhar accused the state government of not being sincere in implementing the norms for mining that invited judicial intervention in view of illegal mining that was taking place "under political and bureaucratic patronage".
Demanding to regulate sand prices, Jakhar said it was the government's wrong decision to lift the price capping in 2011.
He said Punjab BJP president and Pathankot MLA Ashwani Sharma had also given a statement demanding to keep the mafia out of the mining trade. Sharma, who was present in the House, remained silent on Jakhar's assertion.
Jakhar said it should be embarrassing for the government for the mining auctions to be conducted under the high court supervision. "The court even termed the special investigation team (SIT) and its preliminary probe report as eyewash," he added.
Acknowledging illegal mining taking place in the state, Mittal, said the government was taking certain steps. The minister pointed out the suspension of the Pathankot district manager for mining, lodging of FIRs against several crusher owners and halting the illegally functioning stone crushers.
Jakhar countered the minister, pointing out that the crusher owners smuggling in the material for crushing and screening for the gravel were not penalised so far.
Jakhar also asked the minister to explain why the state authorities concerned did not approach the Centre's 'state appraisal committee' attached with the Punjab Pollution Control Board in the past before the cases were tied up with the union ministry of environment and forests in Delhi.
"It was two years after the Supreme Court directions that the state government formulated its own mining policy in March 2013, and that too after the high court's intervention," Jakhar said.
Kang no exception?
As Congress MLA Jagmohan Singh Kang accused the ruling legislators of patronising illegal mining and the mafia, Mittal countered him by pointing out Kang's alleged involvement in the murky trade in the past.
"It was on my complaint that even your house was raided and a case was registered against your brother for such activities," Mittal said.
Probe accidental death of HT journalist
The opposition Congress demanded an independent probe, not by a state agency, into the accidental death of HT's Jalandhar correspondent Jasdeep Malhotra.
Jasdeep had died the day his report on the extortionists collecting money from the sand and gravel consignees appeared on September 22 and he was on his way to Pathankot for another such report on that day.
"Why are the people suspecting (foul play)," Jakhar stated in the House, demanding that chief minister Parkash Singh Badal clear the air by holding the inquiry by the CBI or a sitting judge.
The chief minister, however, did not respond to the appeal for inquiry as Mittal replied to the debate.
"We want to know why was Jasdeep travelling with the SSP," Jakhar stated. The Pathankot SSP was critically injured in the accident while both were travelling in the SSP's official car.