The Pathankot district administration told the Punjab and Haryana high court on Wednesday that it had lodged FIRs against owners of 132 stone crushers, even as the Punjab government got three weeks to specify the steps being taken to curb illegal mining in riverbeds.
The court had taken suo motu notice of HT news reports highlighting illegal mining in riverbeds and along riverbanks in Pathankot district.
Pathankot deputy commissioner C Sibin and senior superintendent of police (SSP) Rakesh Kaushal appeared before the division bench of chief justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and justice Augustine George Masih, submitting that the Pathankot administration had lodged first-information reports (FIRs) against owners of 132 crushers in its jurisdiction and the matter was under further investigation.
The high court, during the hearing, also admitted a separate plea of the accused stone crusher owners, staying any proceedings against them for two days. The breather came as their counsel pleaded that another bench of the high court would hear the crusher owners' petition challenging the state's stone crushing policy on October 25.
The crusher owners also denied their involvement in illegal mining at stone-crushing sites.
The state government's counsel, additional advocate general Ashwani Talwar, did not challenge the crushers owners' argument and sought two weeks to explain the action being taken on the notice served by the court.
The state counsel stated that unaccounted sand and gravel spotted at crushing sites was being assessed. He mentioned that "only 20% of the riverbeds" under the scanner for reported illegal mining were lying in Punjab's territory, adjoining Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir.
No theft charge
The FIRs against the crusher owners were registered on Tuesday under Section 21(1) of the Mining Act on the 'milder' charge of keeping material without proper evidence. Neither Section 379 (theft) of the Indian Penal Code nor any section of the Environment Protection Act, 2008, has been included in the FIRs, despite the huge quantity of sand and gravel found at the crushing sites during raids.
The bench adjourned the case for November 18, by which date the state police and the state's industries department would be filing their comprehensive action-taken report on the court's notice.