One, two, three…the counting continued till 12 tippers were spotted carrying the sand illegally mined from the banks of Sutlej river, in Surtapur village on the Chamkaur Sahib-Morinda road in the wee hours of Wednesday.
This is happening despite the imposition of section 144 of the CrPC in Rupnagar district, which prohibits the movement of vehicles carrying sand and gravel.
But the "strict ban" is only on paper, as an HT team found out, with not even a single checkpoint put up along the 20-km stretch to check the illegal practice.
It was dawn by the time the HT team reached the riverbank, but the miners had done their job already.
"Here is the crane (earthmover) that they have left behind," an elderly villager living nearby said, pointing out that the earthmover put into use past midnight was parked there permanently.
The 1-km desolate 'kuccha' trek that lay ahead was scary, especially in view of the warnings by locals that the miners were an "armed mafia".
The fresh marks of the crane and the tippers on the riverbed that was plundered for mining best-quality sand were clearly visible. As a result of the trenches left behind by the miners, water from the river flows into the barren land along the river, threatening agricultural fields as well.
Locals said the marshy land belonged to the forest department, but the police as well as the district administration had done nothing to check the illegal practice despite repeated complaints.
The site has never been auctioned or enlisted by the industries department for the purpose.
Explaining why there were no checkpoints on the 20-km stretch, deputy commissioner Pardeep Aggarwal said, "Our police force is deployed on election duty for the local body polls."
Rupnagar SSP Inder Mohan Singh, however, claimed that the police seized 10 tippers near Morinda early on Wednesday morning.
Rupnagar SP (detective) Raminder Singh said they were trying to find out the sites from where the sand and gravel loaded in these tippers was extracted. "We are verifying the documents, after which cases will be registered under the Mining Act," he said, adding that another 16 trucks "coming from Himachal side" were challaned for "overloading".
3-member SIT constituted
The Punjab government has constituted a three-member special investigation team (SIT) "to probe the illegal mining activities all over the state", in accordance with high court orders. The court had asked the state to submit a status report in this regard before May 27.
The SIT will be updating the status of all the FIRs registered under the Mining Act and the IPC sections relating to illegal mining, and taking follow-up action, principal secretary (home) DS Bains told HT.
The SIT is headed by IG (Bathinda zone) Nirmal Singh Dhillon with Rupnagar SSP Inder Mohan Singh and Vishav Bandhu, a senior official with the mining wing of the industries department, as its other members."The Rupnagar SSP has been included in the team since this is the most troublesome area as far as illegal mining goes," Bains said.
The high court had observed during the hearing of an illegal mining case last month that "the state government had failed to curb illegal mining, which was going on unabated despite repeated directions from the court".
"It seems that no efforts are being made by the state government to catch hold of the big fish behind the mining mafia," justice Rajive Bhalla had observed on April 12, 2012.