The Special Mining Vigilance Force (SMVF) that was set up in Uttarakhand last year to stop illegal quarrying seems to have been reduced to a mere watchdog.
The force that used to have four teams consisting 12 constables each, one sub-inspector when it was formed has been reduced to a team of five including an Indian Police Service (IPS) official who is heading the force.
The former chief minister Vijay Bahuguna last year had constituted the special force amid complaints of illegal quarrying in various rivers of state with political patronage mostly from the ruling party. Concerned with the government’s image, Bahuguna then announced special force with IPS Sanjay Gunjal as its head.
Within a few months, the force proved its relevance as its raids at more than 50 places in the Terai region of Haridwar, Nainital, Dehradun and Udhamsingh Nagar districts. Total of around 3 lakh square metres of illegal mining material which is approximately equal to material carried by 50,000 vehicles was uncovered.
However, in the turn of events, Harish Rawat replaced Bahuguna earlier this year. With the change of guard, the political backing that force enjoyed somehow was reduced. The issue of illegal quarrying in the rivers of the state is once again hitting headlines.
Social activist Mufti Shamoon Qasmi, who is associated with the BJP alleged that illegal quarrying was rampant in the state despite claims. Mufti also produced documents and claimed that the quarrying lease had been given to several persons after subjugating the norms.
“The Aasan barrage area was a protected watershed, but quarrying lease had been given within 10 kilometre of it. Officials are soft on the mafiosi and the illegal quarrying activities were unchecked in the state,” he blamed.
In fact, the anti-mining force has claimed of conducting dozens of raids with the intention of curbing illegal quarrying. Penalties of more than `16 crores have been levied on various quarrying operators who have obtained licenses and are subverting the norms.
Chief of SMVF Sanjay Gunjyal says that the force presently has the services of 2 Sub Inspectors and 2 head constables for the entire state. “We have asked the government for more personnel”, he says.
Gunjyal also points out that there is possibility of opening two units of the SMVF in the future, one for the Garhwal and the other for the Kumaon region, so that work can be done in a more precise manner.
The DIG says that the work of the SMVF has however not been hit due to manpower crunch. “We are only acting on specific information and do not go after every lad provided to us, says Gunjyal”. That way, the force is presently engaged in the analysis of data and conducting preliminary investigations into a site before conducting a raid with the help of the local police.
The helpline numbers of this dedicated anti mining force have also not been publicized much and there are no boards flashing these numbers for the public,
Apart from this, the main fact is that the force does not have the proper manpower needed to conduct one raid after the other.
Crackdown on illegal quarrying
The anti mining force had slapped 5 cases in different police station under different sections of IPC and prevention of corruption act, which are basically against those people who are directly or indirectly involved in illegal mining.
Forest officials of Katebad forest outpost were caught taking illegal money of `350 to 450 from each loaded vehicle On January 9, 2014 in Meethiberi Shyampur of Haridwar.