The mafia has re-introduced the "goonda" tax on sand and gravel, being supplied from here to other parts of the country, in a new shape to evade legal action. The daily "goonda" tax collection from here is reportedly estimated to be Rs 20 lakh even as the mining has been banned in the district since mid-July.
An HT team found a "goonda" tax collection barrier set up near Baherian Bajurag village on the outskirts of Pathankot. Two persons, who introduced themselves as Dalbir Singh and Krishna, were busy examining the "gate pass" of the trucks loaded with sand or gravel and recording the details in a register. Majority of crushers were set up at Baherian Bajurag and Kiri villages along the bank of the Ravi.
When confronted on illegal recovery, Dalbir Singh tried to be evasive and said Saba, pardhan of a transport union, had deployed him to verify the gate passes at this naka. On their authority to lay a naka on government land, he had no reply.
The mafia had changed its way to recover illegal tax. It had recently supplied duly-numbered gate pass slips directly to crusher owners, ordering them to collect "goonda" tax on its behalf. They would have to mention vehicle number, quantity and the type of material in the gate pass, collect their bill amount and "goonda" tax before supplying minerals to the customers. The truck drivers would be given a copy of the gate pass while a duplicate copy would be retained by the crusher owner. The truck driver would have to show the gate pass at the illegal collection nakas laid by the mafia before being allowed to proceed.
(Dalbir Singh examines "gate pass" of a Muktsar-based truck driver Gurtej Singh before allowing him
to pass through the "goonda tax" collection barrier at Baherian Bajurag village near Sujanpur in
Pathankot on Saturday. Pardeep Pandit/HT)
The mafia representatives would visit the crushers every evening to collect the extorted booty. Earlier, the mafia had been collecting cash at its illegal nakas set up at exit points of mineral mines. But it had to stop the practice after the media expose and the Punjab and Haryana high court taking cognisance of illegal mining.
"They (mafia) openly threaten us to collect the tax from customers or they would use their connections to get our crushers raided by the departments concerned and to get the business sealed. Besides, threats are being issued to get an FIR registered against us since we too are sometimes found violating norms. We have no option but to follow their dictates," a majority of crusher owners told HT on condition of anonymity. "The mafia is being protected by their political masters," they said.
"We have to carry the gate pass till the destination since any checker can ask us to produce the proof of full payment made at the purchase point," Gurtej Singh, driver of sand-laden truck number PB06Q3316, said. Interestingly, mafia had deployed Bolero-driven henchmen in various parts around Pathankot to check payment of tax.
When contacted, senior superintendent of police Surinder Kalia said the goonda tax collection reports were verified from the general manager (GM), district industries centre, over a month ago. "The GM maintained that the authorised mines' allottees were collecting royalty on minerals and there was nothing illegal. We had not received any complaint from any quarters so far," Kalia said, adding that action would be taken only after receipt of such a report from the industries department.
GM Dharmpal Bhagat, however, denied having justified the illegal recovery as royalty collection.
"It is indeed an illegal act, especially when mining has been banned since mid-July. I did not tell the SSP anything in this regard. I don't know why he said so," he said.