Punjab industry minister Madan Mohan Mittal on Wednesday said he had raised the issue of illegal mining several times during the present Akali-BJP regime, but no action had been taken so far.
Mittal, who replaced Anil Joshi as the industry minister in September last year, said various lobbies were simultaneously running this illegal trade.
“What you call ‘goonda tax’ is actually illegitimate royalty that those involved in illegal quarrying are paying to contractors of legally auctioned quarries, where quarrying should actually take place,” the minister admitted in an interview to Hindustan Times here.
When asked who were these contractors, he said: “Certain lobbies,” without elaborating.
On the absence of action, Mittal replied that the nexus of those paying this ‘royalty’ with those collecting it was so strong that the mining authorities and the police could do little without receiving any complaint in this regard.
He said he would hold a detailed inquiry into the functioning of the legally auctioned quarries, which were reported as non-functional in the HT series on illegal mining (July 27-30).
‘NO POLITICAL NEXUS’
Mittal ruled out a politician-police-mafia nexus, which was pointed out by the Punjab advocate general in a statement submitted in the high court.
“I do not agree with this statement,” he said, even as he warned mining officials against any such connivance.
Mittal said the state government was considering taking the quarrying business into its own hands. He also confirmed that a proposal in this regard had already been mooted for quarries of area less than 5 hectares.
Such 32 small quarries got environmental clearance from the Centre recently and the government would operate these, he confirmed.
“This will surely reduce the prices (of sand and gravel) for consumers, and benefit local residents for employment purposes,” he said.
‘Govt keen to operate quarries’
HT: What is your take on illegal mining prevailing in Punjab?
Mittal: I have been against illegal mining right from 2006-07 and even after 2007, when our (Akali-BJP) government took over. But nobody listened to me.
Has nobody listened to you even during the current Akali-BJP regime?
Yes, I raised the issue several times, but nobody took any action. When our alliance retained power (in March 2012), I declared at Nangal: ‘Don’t pay any money to these people, and nobody paid for the first three months.’
Why no action now?
There are certain lobbies. And local people get employment (from mining activities). It is also a social issue, not just an economic one.
Which are these lobbies?
They are contractors of legally auctioned quarries who collect what you call ‘goonda tax’ from those who plunder mining material from illegal sites instead of legal quarries. When there is such connivance, we can do very little in the absence of any complaint against such money collection.
What are your plans to curb this menace?
We (the state government) are still firm against these lobbies. We are considering a proposal that the government should operate the quarries, which will drastically reduce the prices of sand and gravel, instead of giving the quarrying business to private hands. Also, I will ask the home minister (deputy CM Sukhbir Badal) to provide police force to curb illegal mining. Mining inspectors raiding premises should be given at least six cops each.
What is your take on allegations that revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia and Makkar brothers (ex-MLA Sarabjit Singh Makkar and his brother) are involved in illegal mining?
These are mere verbal allegations of political rivals. If my brother or any acquaintance is involved in some trade, it does not mean that the trade is illegal or that I am part of it.