An official inquiry in the wake of the HT report on illegal mining in Punjab has dug out the realities of the multi-crore-rupee racket.
It acknowledges that illegal crushers, sand/gravel consignments from unknown sites, and unofficial checkpoints do exist in the state. The inquiry report states that at least 155 illegal crushers operate in Pathankot alone, and even of the 55 registered in the district's Behria zone, 15 are yet to prove legitimacy.
The revelations come in a half-hearted report of the mining wing in the industries department. "There are 55 stone crushers in the Behria zone, as confirmed by the general manager-cum-mining officer, Pathankot. However only 15 (of these) are registered… but none has submitted the (mandatory) production returns," states the findings document.
The report reached industries department principal secretary Karan Avtar Singh after the four-member committee of department's joint director Sarabjit Singh, director (boilers) Satbir Singh, senior geological officer Vishav Bandhu, and Hoshiarpur general manager-cum-mining officer Balwinder Pal Singh visited Pathankot. The team, states the report, intercepted a few trucks loaded with sand and gravel and found the drivers holding "gate pass identical to the slips mentioned in HT's September 21 report".
Known commonly as "gunda parchi" or "royalty receipt" across the state, the slips are given to the men in charge of the sand trucks as "gate pass issued by the crusher unit(s)" at the time of loading. The committee recorded the statements of certain consignees (to whom the shipment is to be delivered), who denied they had paid any money on their way from the crushers to the destination.
The inquiry team skipped reporting if there was any cash transaction at the gates of the crushing sites. It identified a few illegal crushers by name. On the "gunda parchi" issue, it quoted a crusher proprietor, who came defensive.
"The owner of Ghuman Stone Crusher, Malkit Singh, confirmed that the picture of the gate pass in HT's report was correct and issued by his staff but said he had not received any complaint from the truck owner about the charging of 'gunda tax'. Pathankot has 210 crushers.
The report termed gate passes "suspicious and unjustifiable". "The practice is prevalent in Behria and Haryal areas, and is unjustifiable when the crushers in other areas issue proper bills without any gate pass," it concluded.
"The practice, being suspicious, needs to be abolished, the gate pass should not come out of the crushers (sites), and the vehicles should carry only genuine bills. This will reduce the cost of the material in the market," it recommended.
Accountable officer safe
The report highlights laxity on part of the local mining officer, who was asked to "supervise the stone crushers personally". However, he faces no action, so far. "It is an inquiry into the news report and not against any individual official," said a senior official on the condition of anonymity.
The report also suggested that the deputy commissioner should be asked to monitor the implementation of the stone crusher policy.
The committee suggested that the sales tax department checked "the sale of crushed sand without bill, based on gate pass alone", and the taxation department regulated the collection of tax from the crushers and sand traders to see it was charged as per the bill (if issued). "It will lower the value-added tax (VAT) and reduce the end price of stone dust sand," the team stated.
'Gunda parchi' police matter, says industries department
Unregistered crushers would be sealed and proprietors prosecuted once the 15-day breather was over in four days, said industries and commerce principal secretary Karan Avtar Singh. On the extortion issue, he said the "gunda parchi" was a "police matter". "We are concerned only with the legitimacy of mining and crushing," he said, agreeing that regulating tax would bring down the mineral price indeed and bring revenue to the state government.