Despite crackdown, illegal sand mining continues unabated in Himachal Pradesh
The situation in the border areas of Kangra district and Sirmaur district is graver as jurisdiction conflicts are common due to un-demarcated boundaries. There have been instances of the mining mafia attacking government officers on inspection to check illegal activities
: Regardless of the change at the helm, police crackdown and heavy penalty, illegal sand mining goes on unabated in Himachal Pradesh. The riverbeds of the Sutlej, Yamuna, Beas, Ravi, Chakki and Swan are hotbeds of illegal mining. From dusk to dawn, dozens of tippers and tractor-trolleys laden with sand and gravel head out, while earth-movers wreak havoc, plundering the riverbed even as mechanised mining is banned.
The situation in the border areas of Kangra district and Sirmaur district is graver as jurisdiction conflicts are common due to un-demarcated boundaries. There have been instances of the mining mafia attacking government officers on inspection to check illegal activities. Villagers who raise a voice against the mafia also become easy targets.
Last year, the mafia kidnapped an assistant mining inspector of a joint raiding party of the mining department and the police at Paonta Sahib in Sirmaur district. In 2013, the mafia attacked an IAS officer in Nalagarh.
A senior police officer, who has earlier served as the superintendent of Kangra, said on condition of anonymity that sometimes the police of neighbouring states help the mining mafia. “It has happened in the past when Himachal Pradesh Police took action, the police of the neighbouring states stopped it, citing jurisdiction violation,” he said.
According to the data presented in the Vidhan Sabha during the recent budget session, in the past three years, the mining department executed 207 mining leases in the state and earned revenue of more than ₹23.19 crore.
Problem and its extent
Illegal mining is so rampant that it causes extensive damage to public and private property also.
Last year, the British-era Chakki Railway Bridge on Himachal-Punjab border in Kangra collapsed and locals blamed illegal activities for the disaster. Later, the authorities were forced to close down the adjacent highway bridge.
Hoshiyar Singh, the president of the Kangra unit of the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, who has been at the forefront of the campaign by villagers against illegal mining, alleged that the quarrying goes on unabated in the border areas but the issue makes headlines only after a major damage. “If one walks by the riverbank upstream and downstream you can see the trail of destruction caused by the mining mafia. Over the years, the dimension of the Chakki river bed has gone down rapidly. Large tracts of agricultural land, for which Chakki was once the source of irrigation, have turned into a wasteland. Dozens of villages in Nurpur and Indora have borne the brunt,” he says.
Rajesh Dhiman, a resident of Jaisinghpur area in Kangra, said while the mining department lacks resources to curb illegal mining, the mafia are more organised. They carry out mining activities under cover of darkness and flee when the police or department conducts a surprise raid.
Illegal mining activities are also taking place in the tributaries that are rich in minerals.
Cracking the whip
Apart from the mining department, the state government has delegated power to nearly two dozen departments, including police, public works, jal shakti and forest, to act against illegal mining in their jurisdiction.
However, it is the police department that is seen in action most of the times.
State director general of police (DGP) Sanjay Kundu said that police have acted tough against the mining mafia. However, coordinated efforts of all departments is needed to curb the practice, he said.
From 2020-22, the police detected 21,326 cases of illegal mining. As many as 18,874 cases were registered and fine amounting to ₹18.1 crore was realised. Of the 2,452 cases, which reached the court, were decided by the court and fine amounting more than ₹1.09 crore was realised.
A total of 489 cases are still pending in court.
This year till April 14, the police issued 1,998 challans under the Mining Act of which 1,603 were compounded and collected fine worth ₹1.18 crore.
Kundu said there is need of an enforcement wing, comprising police and mining and transportation department representatives, to check illegal mining. The wing should be equipped with patrolling all-terrain vehicles and drones.
Weighbridges must be installed at prominent places on highways for mandatory weighing of mined material from crushers, he said.
In May 2022, the state government created four mining zones in the state to effectively enforce mining laws and monitor illegal mining after re-structuring of the geological wing of the industries department.
The move was aimed at de-centralisation of works earlier entrusted to the state geologist.
State industries director Rakesh Kumar Prajapati said that to increase its visibility in the field, the department has started the process to recruit 28 mining guards. Recruitment of mining inspectors and assistant mining inspectors is also underway.
“Illegal mining takes place on government land mostly. The department has decided to auction all such sites for which cases of Forest Conservation Act (FCA) and Forests Rights Act (FRA) clearances are being expedited,” he said.