Murky sand trade continues with impunity in Bathinda
Slipping through fingers: No police presence on road where collection point for ‘goonda tax’ has been set up; sand for project inside refinery being brought sans documents
Notwithstanding the Punjab government’s much-touted stand stand against illegal mining, thousands of tonnes of sand and gravel are being smuggled every day to various contractors’ sites for a new petrochemical unit coming up at the oil refinery project near here.
Drivers carrying no valid consignee documents carry out the 300-km long journeys during the night from the pits on the Ravi banks; and offload the consignments, each worth Rs 40,000 to 65,000 depending on the truck size, at different sites of the construction contractors.
One such driver, who identified himself as Gulzar, had brought a truck overnight to offload 65 tonnes of gravel at a site for NCC Construction Company along the Rama Mandi road here, but failed to produce any documents when confronted by the HT team. “The papers are at the office of my sardar-ji (boss) in Rama,” he said. No one checked on the way, he confirmed.
At the firm’s mortar-mixing site, more trucks were spotted. “No, I don’t have any papers,” said another driver, who did not share his name. The truck came from Pathankot (registration number PB-02CR-6006), he said. Asked if police stopped him on the way, he said, “I make them talk on the phone with our baau (boss).”
On Monday, this correspondent met a man named Gurbakhshish Dhaliwal, alias GD, who said his “group” owns some 20 small and big trucks that supply the sand from Pathankot.
Investigations with local buyers revealed that ‘GD’ and his men dictate the prices to contractors and sub-contractors as they stop consignments not owned by them along the Rama road and extract a “goonda tax”.
Dhaliwal was arguing over price with Yogesh Kumar, a sub-contractor for the construction project, at the latter’s site office. “Yes, we dictate the prices, as you know the times are so tough,” he told HT.
Denying the extortion, though, he justified a tent pitched by the road by his men along Dabwali Road on Monday, saying: “The boys feel cold at night.” After some news reports about the tent on Tuesday, they set up a thatched roof at a distance from the earlier point.
A transporter named Dharam Singh from Rampura Phul was another consigner of the sand and gravel from Pathankot. He acknowledged that trucks were earlier being halted on Rama Road.
When asked why his employed driver Gulzar did not carry bills, Dharam said, “The consignment was earlier meant for some other place, so I had kept the bills with me.”
When asked about the “goonda tax”, Jena Kumar, one of the managers of the Hyderabad-headquartered NCC Constructions, said, “There is no problem now.” This firm, along with others such as RSB Enterprises and Bansal Infra, had earlier halted work and taken up the matter with the refinery management. “I can’t say anything beyond that. I will meet you face to face to explain the problem,” he said over the phone, when asked about the earlier protest.
Deputy commissioner Deeparva Lakra acknowledged that “the menace of goonda tax was reported to us”, and added, “I have asked the SSP for a vigil. We will depute mining department’s men to verify all challans (billing documents of consignments) from tomorrow itself.” SSP Navin Singla was not accessible despite repeated calls and messages.
Admn raids mining site in Faridkot
Meanwhile, the Faridkot district administration and mining officials conducted a raid on a sand mine site situated in Dod village,15 km from Faridkot town, where illegal mining has been going on checked.
Sources said three or four tractors were working at the site when the officials reached there.
Deputy commissioner Rajiv Prashar said, “We have sent our team to the site. The ADC (general) will submit a report in this regard and we will take action accordingly.”