A drive through Kanju Peer and Bhanwal villages in Mukerian block of Hoshiarpur district leads one to fields plundered for soil and underlying stones. Besides ruining the environment, this mining to a depth of more than 150 feet is also causing the adjacent fields to collapse.
The mining mafia has been digging up these semi-fertile maize fields (wheat in the Rabi season) for more than seven years now, with 10 crushers now processing the illegal shipments of stones into gravel, all unaccounted for. Agitated farmers describe how their crop was destroyed — either suddenly during cave-in or gradually under a coat of dust raised by illegal soil extraction all around.
Farmer Gopal Das of Naushera Sible village said several of his complaints about unabated digging and the operating of stone crushers had gone unheard in the mining wing of the industries department. “My 7 acres are of no value now. Six years ago, I lost my first crop — sugarcane. It perished under a coat of dust, in the absence of irrigation because of the pits dug around my field. The crop failure put me under huge debt,” he said.
Clashes between the mining mafia and villagers fed up with them are a regular feature now, since crop gets destroyed every season. On Tuesday, more than 100 farmers of Hajipur and adjoining villages in the block clashed with owners of stone-crushing units. On the same day, as the HT team reached a mining spot, the men on the business scooted on two JCBs (Joseph Cyril Bamford earth diggers), while a man left behind claimed he had made a deal with the land’s owner to level it. He could not explain how the pits were then formed, if he was there to do levelling.
Farmers of some 30 villages have formed Pind Bachao, Mafia Bhajao Sangharsh Committee (Save Village, Chase Away Mafia Struggle Committee), which has organised three sit-ins in the past two months and complained against the damage to their small bridges and link roads by the movement of sand tippers.
Contract that kills farm soil
A land owner wishing to remain anonymous told HT that he had signed a yearly contract for `5 lakh per acre with those in the mining business. “The crops,” he added, “were not yielding even Rs 50,000 an acre.” A crusher owner, Jaswinder Singh of Moga, also blamed the soil erosion on landowners’ renting out their fields. He, however, denied being in this illegal mining, claiming that many villagers on their own brought stone consignments to his Miri Piri unit at Kanju Peer for crushing.
Environmental rule bar digging of a field beyond a depth of 10 feet. For that too, the mining and irrigation departments as well as Punjab Pollution Control Board must agree.
The crushing riddle
Hoshiarpur’s mining wing has registered 10 stone crushers in the entire district, and these units screen and crush only the raw material that comes from adjoining Jammu and Kashmir. The wing’s official stand belie the claims of Jaswinder Singh that landowners brought him raw material from own pits.
The Punjab industries department policy requires crusher owners to disclose their source of raw material. The details must include quarry village, tehsil, district and state, environmental clearance and its validity period. Neither any crusher owner nor the mining office in Hoshiarpur keeps a stock register mentioning the description and date-wise details of the imported, processed, dispatched and balance raw material, even though maintaining this record is mandatory under the crushers policy notified afresh this March.
When confronted, the mining wing officials remained silent. Villagers allege that the mining mafia from outside districts operates in their areas in the guise of stone crushers; and the police and the mining department patronise them. Baba Farid, Harjeet, Miri Piri, and Kahlon crushers (the last belongs to a Pathankot resident) did not meet the crushers’ policy norms, they said.
Tomorrow: ‘Goonda’ tax and the drowning of a tipper driver in the Swan