With assembly elections in the state only a month away, focus is back on the state’s multi-crore stone quarrying business for allegedly making clandestine political funding in a bid to influence the poll results.
Environmentalists say due to such funding the quarry lobby enjoys a tremendous political clout that granted them “protection” against any violation of environment norms.
Dushyant Mainali, who has been fighting legal battles against the pollution generated by the quarry business, pointed out that guidelines on the stone crushers were changed seven times due to pressure from the influential lobby.
“This shows the money power and clout they enjoy in the state,” he said.
In the alleged sting operation that rocked the state a few months ago, Congress legislator from Dwarahat was heard saying how the quarry lobby from the state’s Terai region allegedly provided money to protect the Harish Rawat led Congress government.
Rawat was accused of bribing 12 dissident Congress legislators to get their support during the trust vote in May last year.
“Many ministers are themselves involved in running quarry business through proxy. A candidate from a seat in Kumaon region runs his own stone crusher”, Mainali alleged.
Observers say Haldwani stone crushers and quarry lobby is the most powerful in the state and they are the major source of funding for the political parties during elections.
The annual turnover of the quarrying done on the Gola river in Haldwani is about Rs 400 crore, according to deputy director mining Rajpal Legha.
Mafia don Prakash Pandey alias PP who was the aide of Chhota Rajan and liquor baron Ponty Chadha had started their career by dabbling in quarrying activities on the Gola river in Haldwani.
The Haldwani and Lalkuan areas have close to 30 stone crushers. More than 30,000 dumpers, vehicles and horse carts are involved in ferrying the minerals extracted from the river bed. Around 1.5 lakh people are directly or indirectly involved in the business.
Bhumesh Agarwal, who is the former president of the Stone Crusher’s Association, says that some quarrying businessmen might be giving funds to the political parties, but the association is not involved in any such activities.
The state will go to poll on February 15.