Officials pave way for mining in fragile area, HC kept in the dark
The Punjab industries department has put its official stamp on the plundering of 33 acres of ecologically fragile area for sand quarrying in the proximity of the Sirhind irrigation canal and a related seepage drain at Powat village of Ludhiana district, flouting all norms.
The sloped area, which has already been plundered illegally for sand in the past two years, was officially auctioned on November 30, 2015, as a large quarry, in contradiction to the assurance given by the mining officials against it in the Punjab and Haryana high court.
Avtar Singh’s 4-acre farmland is piquantly included in the area demarcated as the quarry, without even his consent. “Nobody came to me, forget about taking our consent, I only came to know about this last year and we had to move court,” he said.
The documents in possession of HT revealed that the ‘khasra’ numbers of his land were also included in the sand quarry.
Whistleblower Col Balbir Singh (retd), who is another aggrieved landowner, feared cave-in of his fields adjoining the said quarry and, along with other villagers, had moved the high court. He was instrumental in getting the related documents under the RTI Act to expose the authorities in the court.
“This quarry is defined in total violation of the norms set by the soil conservation, drainage and public works departments,” said Col Balbir. “If tomorrow, our fields cave in and the passages are flooded, then who will be responsible?” he asked. A soil conservation report had even warned against any mining activity on this land, while the drainage department had warned of floods, he added.
Senior mining wing officials, including the state geologist and the Ludhiana industries general manager, had even submitted in the high court that the earlier mining contract at the site in question as awarded to the Punjab State Industries Exports Corporation (PSIEC) was withdrawn.
While the case went in favour of the villager-petitioners on November 17, 2015, the same authorities auctioned the land on November 30, 2015, revealed the documents procured under the RTI Act and in possession of HT.
When contacted, industries g eneral mana g er Mahesh Kumar Khanna admitted that the said area was an officially auctioned quarry. He, however, maintained that certain ‘khasra’ numbers (pieces of land) that could endanger the adjoining fields had been deleted from the quarry area.
When asked why he did not inform the high court that the industries department was still planning a quarry as the petitioners were against it, he said the court never asked the department about it. “We informed the court that the award for quarrying (in Powat) was withdrawn from the PSIEC,” he said.
‘Not in loop’
It was in June 2013 that the site appraisal committee headed by then subdivisional magistrate Ghanshyam Thori gave its nod for an official quarry in this ecologically fragile area. The local villagers, including one of the petitioners Col Balbir Singh, told HT that the committee had not consulted them while identifying the area.