Illegal sand mining is rampant on a large scale in the Kandi belt of the district under alleged political patronage, posing a serious threat to the existence of several villages in the area.
At Takhni village, about 30 kilometres from the district headquarters, mining activity is going on clandestinely round the clock for the last many days but despite villagers’ complaints, the mining department officials have failed to check it for reasons best known to them.
On Monday, when HT visited the site a number of sand dredging machines and earthmovers were extracting sand not only from a vast tract of land but also from the adjoining Mehngrowal choe (rivulet) endangering its embankments. The operators fled on seeing an unfamiliar vehicle approaching them but they were caught in the camera.
In the meantime, a group of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) activists, including a sitting sarpanch, reached the site. They denied having any connection with the activity but their presence was self-explanatory.
A tipper spotted on the site carried the name of an Akali leader of Bahowal. A few metres away some men were spotted excavating the choe bed. They first claimed that they were extracting sand for a religious place but later informed (in a recorded statement) that they were working for Bablu Josh, son of chief parliamentary secretary (CPS) and local MLA Mohinder Kaur Josh.
The latter, however, denied the charges saying the name of the family was being “unnecessarily” dragged in the matter. “Lok aiwen hi sada naam lai lende ne. (People unnecessarily use our name). We are not at all involved in this business,” Bablu Josh claimed.
The police official who reached the site on HT’s call received a telephone call from a “sir” who apparently directed him to not proceed further. Mining officials and local police were immediately informed about the illegal operation. The police took half an hour to arrive though the Hariana police station is hardly 10 kilometres away. Mining officer Harjot Kaur first said she was busy elsewhere and would send an inspector but she inspected the site late in the afternoon.
There was ample evidence of fresh mining when HT left the site but the mining officer said she did not find any material from the spot pointing to the nexus between the department, the police and the illegal miners.
The land had been dug as deep as 20 metres at some places. The irrigation department had spent crores on strengthening the choe bandh after the floods devastated adjoining areas some years ago but the sand mafia has not spared even the choe. Even the mining officer admitted that the choe bed was not auctioned due to its vulnerability. Excessive mining activity can prove catastrophic in the coming times. Huge craters have been formed along the banks due to sand lifting.
Sources revealed that sand mined from here is taken to adjoining districts and sold at very high prices. They said the same mafia was earlier active in nearby Chak Ladian village but recently it had shifted its focus to Takhni. They said the mining activity went on round the clock and vehicles made several trips to the site. The rates were going to rise further during monsoons as it was hard to venture in the rain-fed area, they added.
General manager (industries) Tehal Singh Sekhon, when contacted, said their team had recovered a digging machine from the site and nothing else. The vehicle was seized and handed over to the police, he said.
“I will send the block officer concerned to the spot to ascertain the land ownership. Action will be taken against the owner who has allowed illegal mining on his land,” he said.