Illegal sand mining: Month on, red tape holds back action
Laying bare tall claims of the Punjab government of curbing illegal sand mining, two digging machines illegally being used on government land and caught by the Ludhiana forest department officials a month ago in Goindwal village, Ladhowal, are still at the spot on the Sutlej riverbed. While it took a week for the Ludhiana police to determine that the location is not in their jurisdiction and in fact falls under Jalandhar police area, the forest department officials have been running from pillar to post all these days to get an FIR registered.
The illegal mining first came to light on May 19 when forest department officials got a tip-off. Upon seeing the raiding team also comprising police, the workers fled the spot leaving the machines behind. The accused named in the department’s complaint is a village panchayat member believed to be close to local MLAs. Initial investigations revealed that the owner of the machines had given these on rent to Mandeep Singh, sarpanch of Chuharpur village. As per the complaint filed by the forest department to the police, Mandeep and contractor Raj Kumar used the machine for mining.
A day after the raid, officials of the revenue department demarcated the land and found that it belonged to the forest department. On May 26, the Ludhiana police realised that the area falls under the jurisdiction of Jalandhar rural district police (Phillaur police station to be exact), as the government had issued a notification for change in jurisdiction in March this year.
Forest range officer Jarnail Singh has reportedly been making rounds of the police station of Phillaur but no progress in the case has been made. The machines, which should now be case property, are still stationed at the riverbed where 15 forest guards keep vigil.
Illegal sand mining has become a contentious issue in Punjab since the Captain government had taken charge, especially after names of some ruling party leaders surfaced in this regard. There is a ban on using machines, but contractors use these to extract more sand than they are entitled to and cover area around mines that are allotted legally too.
When contacted, divisional forest officer Charanjit Singh said he has submitted a complaint to the police and is waiting for the culprits to be nabbed.
After HT called senior police officials in Jalandhar, “orders” for registration of FIR were given by the senior superintendent of police (SSP), Gurpreet Singh Bhullar. However, Amrik Singh, the DSP concerned, later explained that since Ludhiana police first went to the spot, the Phillaur police had to verify all aspects of the case and “thus it took time”. “We have taken legal action after verification from our counterparts in Ludhiana,” he said.
Mandeep Singh, the village sarpanch against whom the complaint was filed, told HT, “I do not have any connection with the case and my vocation is farming. I don’t know why my name is being taken and a complaint has been falsely lodged while I was in Barnala that day. I do not know anything about sand mining in the area.”