In the face of officials claiming all is well in Punjab's mining sector, here are some alarm bells - a tipper-truck driver drowned last month during midnight mining on the Swan riverbed, the mafia fired six shots to flee protesting villagers earlier this month, and the guards silently watch the unabated excavation of the Sutlej as well.
Nangran village on the banks of the Swan near Anandpur Sahib in Rupnagar district narrates the story of deaths due to drowning at unexpected spots where earth-moving machines have been digging deep on the banks and even in the water for sand and gravel.
Around midnight on June 9, Surjit Singh drowned when his tipper-truck fell into the waters that were not as shallow as he expected. Despite an FIR, the local police did not take any action on those who had hired Surjit along with several others to carry the illegal sand-gravel.
Earlier, over a year ago, two brothers of Dulgran village had died of drowning under similar conditions at another nearby illegal mining site at Bela Shiv Singh.
The entire 13km stretch of Swan, before falling into the mighty Sutlej at Surewal, is spotted all along with illegal stone crushers and screening plants.
"Crushers in such large numbers came up in the last two years, making our life hell. Women crossing the waters, that were shallow earlier, for grass or fodder now get scared of drowning," said Barinder Kumar, husband of village sarpanch Preeti.
Known as a the proxy sarpanch - as is a sad tradition in many villages with woman sarpanch - Barinder had led a group of some 50 villagers to the river to face the mining mafia earlier this month; but the workers fired at least six shots to chase them away.
Kalwan village police post incharge, assistant sub-inspector (ASI) Ravinder Singh, acknowledged the incident and even gave serial numbers of the two FIRs he had registered for the incident; but failed to explain the identity of those at the helm of affairs of the illegal mining. The accused are merely "Ravi and party" in the FIR registered under the Arms Act. They are now on bail and investigations are on for filing of the chargesheet, according to the ASI.
The locals on the other hand have a different story to tell about the police. They talk about "royalty" or "goonda tax" as protection money given to the goons who patronise the illegal mining operations around the clock. An SUV with a Chandigarh registration number was seen visiting several crushers, most of them illegal, at Khera and Khanpur Khuhi along the Swan.
The Rupnagar police had last year registered several FIRs against crusher owners here; but they are still operating. Heaps of sand and gravel, plundered from the rivers, were seen at these unregistered units.
Mining officials had no explanation. District general manager, mining, Chaman Lal said he was yet to see the record of such unaccounted materials. "I am new on the post, and we are on the job," he told HT, as his subordinates were helpless in producing any record.
DC: Mining officials never complained
Deputy commissioner Tanu kashyap, when contacted, acknowledged the menace. Tanu, who joined as DC over a month ago, however told HT that she had not come across any instance wherein mining officials made a complaint of excavation of riverbeds or crushers operating illegally. When apprised that illegal crushers were not sealed anymore and the plundering going on unabated, the DC said she would check such sites and take necessary action. "Villagers of Nangran had come to me too, and the FIRs were registered for follow-up action," she said.