The noisy stone crushers sprawling over the riverbeds along the Beas in the Berian zone of Pathankot district drown the silence of the river. Further, heavy JCB machines crawl right into the shallow waters, competing for the wet sand-gravel natural mixtures. Despite revelations to this effect being acknowledged in a recent official probe report, the illegal mining in the area continues unabated.
From boulders to gravel, a variety of mining material is being consigned as building material round the clock with no sign of police at any entry point.
The vehicle of the HT team that visited the area on Friday evening was under constant surveillance as threatening eyes kept vigil against the possible raiders. Those driving the trucks with building consignments were on the move, knowing their destination.
Though the Punjab industries department, in its probe following the recent HT report on illegal mining, has acknowledged at least 55 such giant machines running illegally here, their owners under the protection of local henchmen and in the absence of any rule of law even have the facility of a diesel pump station at an entry point.
Several dwellers in a neighbouring rural cluster own a truck each for the building material to be sent across Punjab and the adjacent Jammu and Kashmir.
This goes on right under the nose of the 'high-profile' police naka of Madhopur on the Pathankot-Jammu national highway, which is just a kilometre away. The illegal sand/gravel consignments despite taking the 1-km road stretch leading to the naka, take a 3-km rough road with potholes, where there is no sign of cops.
Read: Illegal sand mining: What HT dug out probe now unearths
Night movement on, cops 'unaware' of ban
At 3am on Saturday, the team found that the midnight hour remained convenient for the sand and gravel trucks on the Hoshiarpur-Pathankot highway spotted with police nakas.
A simple query to the cops at the Garhshankar check post and then at a 'naka' at Dasuya elicited the reply, "Some 25-30 trucks have passed so far."
The response to another query was that they had "no instructions" not to allow the movement of building material consignments during night. The reply was in contrast to the ban on the movement of sand and gravel across the state from 7pm to 7am under strict instructions of the deputy commissioners concerned.
"The drivers take names of influential people," said a cop at Garhshankar. "We are nothing in front of them," he added, offering us tea with the request to write on the issue.Read: Sand mafia hikes sand rate in Jalandhar, common man to bear the brunt
Several trucks and tractor trolleys loaded with sand on the Pathankot-Jalandhar highway had no documents for the consignment. Still, the cops remained mere spectators at a check post of the excise and taxation department near Dasuya that was "taxing" such vehicles between Rs. 400 (for a tractor trolley) and Rs. 1,200 (for a "12-tyre and above" vehicle). The man on the taxation post said this was "entry tax".
An ASI rank police official and a constable said they were attached with the excise and taxation department. In the absence of any instructions to seize the illegal sand/gravel consignments, as they maintained, their "role" was to assist the department in its task.
Read: Rs 20 lakh a day goonda tax on sand, gravel in Pathankot