The Shivalk foothills now resemble a shaven head. Illegal mining for sand and gravel is turning the green land bare and brown.
At this village near Nangal, stone crushers growl day and night, mocking at environmental laws and the National Green Tribunal (NGT) notice to which the Punjab government must reply on August 30. “Local farmers have protested but the crushers belong to people of political influence,” Nangal councillor Paramjit Singh Pamma stated in his petition before the green court. “Bureaucrats, police, and the mining department can only watch.”
After mining-triggered landslide shut the trekking route to a hilltop temple last month, the ravagers plundered the mount again for an alternative trail to silence the villagers. Every day, a beeline of overloaded tippers moves 8,000 tonnes (roughly) of looted minerals out of these quarries. The 7-kilometre broken stretch to the raped hills takes more than half an hour to cover, since these crawling monsters block the way.
A random check at Punjab Stone Crushers didn’t yield a single document to justify the heaps of dug-out raw material dumped at the site. Spotting the HT team, the workers shut the machine and a “caretaker” rang up manager Naresh Kumar, who explained over telephone that owner Gurdip Singh Gill of Zirakpur was “now in Canada” and “nobody knows his contact number”.
Up the hill, the JCBs scratch more shaven landscapes for boulders. A piece of this land belongs to Ram Swarup of Ganga Stone Crushers. “It was auctioned for quarrying in 2010,” claims the owner. “But now it is shut for more than a year.”
DIFFICULT TO EXPLAIN
“The uprooting of thousands of trees and plants was against the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, Environment Protection Act, 2002, and the Biological Diversity Act, 2002, but it was done in collusion with the government machinery,” the petition states. “Brazen illegal mining at Khera Kalmot has brought down complete hills in 12 years.” For more than a week now, the mining wing of the industries department and the Rupnagar district administration are working over a reply to the NGT notice.
Rupnagar deputy commissioner Karnesh Sharma acknowledged the menace but said that in the past one month, 10 cases of illegal mining had been registered in Nangal and Anandpur Sahib and several crushers sealed.
The FIRs (first-information reports), though, are against either tipper drivers or machine operators and land owners. Big fish always escape. The DC said the newly formed district mining foundation would help regulate mining.
Rupnagar’s general manager of industries and mining Chaman Lal counts six crushers sealed in June. Last week, one of these units acquired a no-objection certificate from Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) to restart.
Board’s Rupnagar executive engineer RS Matharu said the NOC was issued on the basis of the change-of-land-use (CLU) certificate issued by the district town and country planning department. “We just look at the CLU and pollution,” he said. “The forest department is supposed to look at deforestation.”
TOMORROW: FIELDS ERODE, BRIDGE IN DANGER