In the dust of the stone-crushing sites along the banks of the Sutlej and its rivulets, the money involved goes unaccounted for, collected in the name of “royalty” that even the officials concerned of the industries department fail to explain.
Rs 6 cr, what the government earns in a year from the auction of five quarries, mining mafia makes in less than a week in just one district. What is this “royalty”? In official terms, it’s what the quarry-lease owners charge customers for the construction raw material (sand and gravel) and what the state has notified to be Rs 30 per ton. It applies to only the five quarries auctioned in January for a lease period of two years.
The term “royalty”, however, has become slang for the money extorted for illegal mining and shipping of sand. The people who pay include not only the crusher owners processing illegal consignments but also the groups running hundreds of quarries illegally across the state. Those who pay this “royalty” term it “goonda (rogue) tax” as well.
The rogues collect Rs 50 lakh every day roughly at just 190 stone-crushing sites in Rupnagar and at the illegal checkpoints raised elsewhere in the district to flag down tippers carrying the mineral from the neighbouring Himachal Pradesh.
While the official royalty from the legal quarries is Rs 120 per cubic feet (CFT), or Rs 30 per ton (25 CFT), the extortionists collectRs 500 for every 100 CFTs of gravel and Rs 1,250 for each CFT of sand. Normal crushers process between 2,000 and 3,000 CFT of mineral daily, and the advanced “cone” machines grind 50,000 CFT.
WHY NO ACTION?
“Our mining officers have written to the Rupnagar senior superintendent of police to register cases against the crusher owners who failed to produce the relevant documents pertaining to the material found on their premises in January and February,” said deputy director of industries Vishav Bandhu.
Part of the three-member special investigation team analysing illegal mining and the mafia role, Bandhu could not explain the “royalty” that the mafia had been collecting. “It’s the police role to control (this menace),” he said. “The crusher owners will not come forward with complaints, which shows they are with the mafia,” he added.
The government has a immediate option: to seal the illegal crushers. Sceptical about this response, Bandhu said: “It is more complex than that, as we have to involve other departments such as the environment wing.” Besides Rupnagar, illegal mining and stone crushing is unabated in Phillaur (Sutlej banks) and Pathankot (Ravi banks), with the mandatory consent of the “royalty” collectors.
In Pathankot, the cases registered remain in limbo, in spite of another SIT formed in November 2013 on the Punjab and Haryana high court orders, after it took suo-motu notice of an HT series on illegal mining in October 2013.
TOMORROW: THE POLITICIANS’ SAY