Even as Punjab and Haryana are fighting a legal battle over the Sutlej Yamuna Link (SYL) canal in the Supreme Court, the mining mafia has been digging up parts of the canal at Bathunia village in Patiala district for the past month.
The mafia is removing 500 to 800 trolleys of earth daily and has already breached the canal, despite the Punjab government’s ban on mining and other activities in and around the canal. About 200 people are working at the site.
Workers said a man named Goldy was supervising the work. Talking to HT on the phone, Goldy claimed that he was close to the local Akali MLA and had got the contract for digging up the canal. Workers claimed that the “contractor” was charging Rs 300 per trolley of earth. Each trolley is selling at Rs 1,000 in the market, they said.
“How can we can allow digging when the SYL case is pending in the apex court? It is illegal and we will lodge an FIR,” said Harvinder Singh, chief engineer, irrigation department.
Five large digging machines, several earth movers and nearly 50 tractor trolleys are operating at the site. The mafia has also dug up the river bed and banks at several spots and created a nearly 200-ft-wide breach. Some breaches have also been detected in nearby villages.
“We are paying Rs 300 per trolley as royalty,” a trolley driver said. “We don’t need any receipt as Goldy provides us protection from the irrigation and transport authorities,” he said.
Sources said the mafia started digging up the canal when a former Akali minister’s men excavated earth from the place for earth-filling at a rice mill.
“Trucks, earth movers and trolleys ply on narrow village roads. It has become difficult for us to commute as about 1,000 vehicles move daily in the area,” said Harinder Kaur, a local resident.
When contacted, deputy commissioner GK Singh said, “The government have banned all types of activities in and around the canal as the case is pending in the Supreme Court. I will seek an explanation from the irrigation department and the mining officer.”