In the vicinity of this holy town, the assault on nature goes unabated with the mining mafia excavating hillocks and the Swan rivulet besides other smaller tributaries of the Sutlej. Surprisingly, the officials responsible for curbing the menace are silent on the issue.
There was no sign of a cop on the 5-km rough stretch off the Nurpur-Anandpur Sahib highway as the HT team crossed a private money collection naka near Kahanpur Khuhi to discover the erstwhile beautiful landscapes being plundered by huge machines in the Kandi belt of Rupnagar district.
Over a dozen such sites with crushers installed and guarded by the henchmen are sprawled over 20 square km area, encroaching upon the wild pastures owned by either the forest department or panchayats of Khera, Nangran and Majeri villages.
The men on the spot at Dasmesh crushers said they were not the only one and named 11 other units installed illegally to supply gravel and sand on demand.
A manager there refused to provide the contact number of the owners. "I don't know, I am here to supervise the operations," he said, pleading that he was a mere employee and had nothing to do with these activities.
He, however, said the crushers in the area were installed in the past five to six years and the Doaba and Bhakra units were the first to arrive six years back.
The private naka on the way apparently meant for extortion was the only check point where these illegal consignees pay between Rs. 300 and Rs. 1,200, depending on the material and its quantum, said a driver of a truck on way to loading the material.
When confronted, the men at the naka said it was just a resting place for drivers, who dispersed and vanished later, sensing trouble as they refused to convey their identities.
At Khera village, nobody was willing to talk on the issue. The villagers were silent spectators as their panchayati land is plundered day and night by the mafia in the absence of a formal complaint by the locals.
The village sarpanch, they said, had gone out and would return in the evening. "He won't tell you anything," said a villager, adding "nobody can touch the mining mafia".
Rivulets not spared
Sainsowal, Algran, Suwara on the Swan rivulet, Sirsa Nangal on Sirsa rivulet and Agampur on the banks of Sutlej remain ideal for illegal mining as the consignments move freely in the absence of a police naka.
The JCB machines were carving out the earth at the crushers' sites on the riverbanks at Algran and Sirsa Nangal.
At the Ghanauli sales tax naka on the Anandpur Sahib-Rupnagar national highway, the HT team spotted a truck loaded with boulders that had no voucher. The cops deputed at the naka helplessly let the consignment pass through, after excise inspector Satwinder Singh said the trucks with sand and gravel were "not his jurisdiction". He pointed out to a separate 'naka' of the mining wing that was unmanned.
Another consignment of boulders was from Seigneur Crushing and Washing, Agampur, evidence enough that mining was on at Agampur on the banks of the Sutlej.
It was on its way to SAS Nagar, according to the driver, but the voucher had no address of the destination except for Krishna Builders, SAS Nagar. It was actually for crushing at the Mubarakpur crushing site in SAS Nagar district.
Authorities silent, helpless
Ram Singh, Rupnagar district general manager, mining, of the industries department, said he was helpless "in the absence of enforcement and workforce". "There have been several FIRs pending," he said, pointing out the accountability of the departments of forest, irrigation and rural development.
Rupnagar district development and panchayat officer Kulwant Singh said he would talk on the issue later. Kulwant, however, did not take the call later.
Rupnagar district forest officer Naresh Mahajan, who is already in trouble for the carving of a hillock at Alowal, opposite the historic Gurdwara 'Parivar Vichhora' in Anandpur Sahib block, was not available for comment.
(Tomorrow: Officials go soft on illegal crushers in Pathankot, despite HC notice)