Checkpoints to collect extortion money or ‘goonda tax’ remain an open secret of the illegal mining trade in Punjab. But the state police’s stand on the issue in the Punjab and Haryana high court remains questionable as the Rupnagar senior superintendent of police (SSP) has said there is no such case of “illegal royalty” in the area. During the hearing of a petition, the then Rupnagar SSP Gurpreet Singh Toor submitted this in the court on April 1, making no mention of whether or not he had probed the existence of “goonda tax nakas” mentioned in the petition.
The petitioner had mentioned Khizrabada, Algran, Ghanauli and Kirat Sahib as locations of the “goonda tax nakas” in a separate statement. The SSP’s statement was in contradiction of his purported drive against all such nakas when the “goonda tax collectors” were chased away and senior cops told HT that “crusher owners could forward a complaint if the extortionists had invaded their premises”. “We will take action against all [such extortionists],” he had then said.
HEARING IN CASE ON OCT 13
The case is now enlisted for hearing on October 13, after the petitioner’s counsel sought a copy of the SSP’s reply.
Petitioner Bachittar Singh had also made Balwinder Singh alias Billu a party in the case as one such “illegal royalty collector”. Billu had admitted to HT in an interview in April that he indeed collected the “royalty”: “Crusher owners give it (‘royalty’) to me by will; I do not force them to pay. This is our agreement.” Billu is a happy man for another reason as well. His giant stone-crusher operation on the Swan riverbed at Algran in Rupnagar has been given the official nod allegedly in connivance with mining officials of the industry department.
The unit— Akash Infrastructure — had earlier got a green signal to operate as a screening plant only (to segregate the gravel and the sand from the raw material) and was later registered as a crusher on July 29 last year.
A discrepancy remained that Akash Infrastructure was recognised as “screening-cumwashing plant” at Algran, Nangal subdivision, while registration as a crusher was granted in the same letter to “M/s Amit Kumar and Company, village Bindrakh in tehsil and district Rupnagar”.
The then general managercum-mining officer for Mohali and Rupnagar districts had signed this shady registration, a copy of which is in possession of HT.
Further, on November 2, 2013, the unit was recognised as “stone crusher-cum-screening plant”, in another official letter issued to Billu that his plant was now allowed to operate on his undertaking that he would bring the raw material from Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir. The same general manager-cum-mining officer had signed the second communiqué. For Ram Singh, the official in question, it was a “typing or clerical mistake”. “There were so many issues to handle, and I was the only officer to take a call against the illegal crushers,” he told HT on phone.
The present general manager-cum mining officer, Chaman Lal, when contacted, said he would hold “detailed inquiry into all such crushers that are installed illegally”.