Illegal and ecologically-hazardous mining of minor minerals such as sand and gravel is taking place near the Ravi's banks in this border district - right under the administration's nose.
What's worse, the Punjab government earns nearly Rs 3 crore as annual royalty on sand and gravel mining here, while the mining mafia pockets nearly Rs 100 crore annually from private crusher owners and transporters for facilitating unauthorised mining and sale of minor minerals, an HT investigation has revealed.
The sale receipts of gravel and sand from Pathankot are estimated to be Rs 1,000 crore - and that too largely in cash.
In a glaring malpractice, 100-cubic-ft gravel, which costs a private contractor nearly Rs 600, is later being sold for Rs 3,500 to common buyers in Punjab. Insiders revealed that nearly 1,500 trucks of gravel and 1,000 trucks of sand (having capacity of 400 to 1500 cubic feet) were being dispatched daily from here to different parts of north India.
The mafia has been allegedly collecting Rs 170 per 100 cubic feet of sand and Rs 220-260 for the same quantity of gravel. Rampant illegal mining has also led to land and environmental degradation near the Ravi, making residents of nearby villages more prone to floods during the rainy season.
The mafia has reportedly helped crusher owners grab more than the allotted land and resources here for mining, while there is no check on digging earth deeper than the permissible limit of 10 ft. Pathankot deputy commissioner Sibin C admitted that illegal mining was going on in the district.
"I have imposed a ban on illegal mining of minor minerals. Now, it is the duty of mining officials to ensure that the order is implemented and the FIRs registered," he said. Officiating mining officer Rajesh Kumar said he assumed charge on April 5 and was not aware about notices already served on such contractors.
"There are only three inspectors and two mining guards in Pathankot. The shortage of staff has impeded strict compliance of the norms. We have requested the government to provide requisite staff. Industries minister Anil Joshi has issued instructions to check illegal mining and the same are being implemented," he added.
Pathankot produces a huge quantity of gravel and caters to customers up to Delhi, as mining is banned in Haryana, Chandigarh and Uttar Pradesh. A single-day 'royalty' collection (the fee imposed by quarry permit holders on private contractors involved in mining and transportation of minor minerals) is estimated to be Rs 50 lakh, of which hardly a few thousands are being deposited in the state exchequer. 'Henchmen' of the mining permit holders allegedly do not issue receipts of the 'full' amount to avoid penal action.
During a round of Keeri village on Saturday, the Hindustan Times team found that more than 40 crushers were operational in nearby villages. Though it is mandatory to obtain environmental impact assessment clearance from the union environment and forests ministry for such mining and crusher operations (being situated within 10km of the Punjab-Jammu and Kashmir inter-state border), mining of minor minerals in these villages is being undertaken without obtaining necessary permission.
Besides, topography of several villages has witnessed a drastic change due to unchecked mining. The situation is no different in Meerthal on the outskirts of the town.
A majority of JCB machines and trucks do not bear registration numbers so as to keep the owners away from trouble. Roads are bearing the brunt of overloading of trucks and trolleys with minor minerals.
Interestingly, the district administration recently completed a public hearing for seeking environmental clearance before auctioning 38 quarries to private bidders, but mining on a majority of such proposed quarries, including Nehra, Jasswa, Kathlor, Dalpat and Kharkhara, is already on in violation of the norms.
The industries department has permitted mining on 265.4 acres with an annual extraction of maximum 5,09,000 metric tonnes in Pathankot, which is enough to feed nearly 300 crusher units operational here to the full capacity for 13 days. While stone crusher owners claimed that they were bringing raw material from Jammu and were not involved in illegal mining here, records at the Lakhanpur barrier on the Kathua-Pathankot road did not conform to their claims.
There is no clear demarcation of territory of the Ravi, which has one bank in Jammu and Kashmir and another in Punjab.