Hoshiarpur deputy commissioner Anindita Mitra has constituted a special investigation team (SIT) to probe into illegal mining at Hajipur and Talwara blocks of the district. The move comes after HT reported these illegal activities in its two-part series “Nature’s plunder” on August 17 and 18.
Mukerian sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) Harcharan Singh will head the SIT, with Dasuya divisional forest officer (DFO) Wilbert Samson, a deputy superintendent of police (DSP) and three other officials -- one each from the revenue and industries departments and Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) -- as its members.
The DC, however, has not mentioned any timeframe for completing the probe.
The SDM, who has scheduled the SIT’s first meeting on Friday, told HT he will complete the inquiry and fix responsibility “as early as possible”.
Punjab principal chief conservator of forests (PCCP) Kuldeep Kumar had also sought a detailed report on the matter from the district officials of his department, saying the hilly area under illegal digging had been “delisted” from Sections 4 and 5 of the Punjab Land Preservation Act. This, he said, meant that it did not come under the department’s jurisdiction.
The PCCF put the onus on the mining department and the PPCB for giving the clearance for mining on the hillock at Sukhchainpur that HT had reported on August 17. Hoshiarpur mining officer Harjot Kaur told HT on phone that the mining activity at Sukhchainpur has now been halted.
Besides Sukhchainpur in Talwara block, the SIT will also probe the plunder of fields in villages of Hajipur block, which HT reported the following day.
Financial commissioner, forests, Viswajit Khanna, said: “I will prosecute any officer (of his department) found guilty in this entire matter.” He also maintained that officials of the forest department in Hoshiarpur had confirmed that Sukhchainpur hillocks under mining activities were “delisted” and, thus, the onus lies on the mining wing and PPCB.
SUKHCHAINPUR QUARRY AUCTION ILLEGAL
The geological-cum-mining wing of the industries department had auctioned khasra number 343, 344, 345, 346, and 981/348 of Sukhchainpur as quarry for minor minerals (boulders) in November last, but these areas are part of hilly forests, the topography of which could not be altered. The auction for such mining is statutorily conducted for riverbeds and plains, but is not allowed for hilly forest land, even if it is delisted from the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA). In 2011, the Punjab government had delisted several vast lands, including forest areas, under the PLPA Act to facilitate subsistence of the owners, with clauses that the land could not be used for any commercial purpose and its topography could not be altered.