HP: Illegal Mining Continues Unabated Despite NGT Order
Representational use only.Image Courtesy: ANI
New Delhi: River Swan and its tributaries in Una district of Himachal Pradesh are a hotbed of illegal mining in the state. In 2021, as per a petition filed by a local resident on the threat being posed to the Rs 922-crore Swan channelisation project in the district, which is nearly 1,200 sq km area of the Swan River and 65 km of the river’s length in Himachal Pradesh.
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) had set up a five-member committee to study the damage being caused to the river. The committee was also asked to recommend measures to protect the local biodiversity and environment. The committee, headed by Justice Jasbir Singh, a former judge of Punjab and Haryana High Court, was told of areas where the river bed mining was going on recklessly and an order was passed by a bench headed by NGT Chairman Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, suggesting measures to stop the mining and also taking remedial steps by the state government agencies.
Despite the fact that the NGT has taken a strict view, illegal mining is continuing in the Swan and its 66 tributaries in the Una district. There are 73 small tributaries (mini-channels) which join the river from different catchment areas from the nearby villages. The state has suffered a loss to the tune of several crores of rupees in terms of royalty from mining.
According to a report in The Tribune, a report was submitted to the monitoring committee set by the NGT to suggest measures for checking illegal mining in the river, in which the district administration of Una has maintained that 60 leases have been granted for mining in the Swan. 28 leases were granted to stone crushers and 32 are open mining leases from where the lessee can extract the minerals and sell these in the open market. Of the 60, 52 leases have been granted on private lands on the Swan riverbed and eight on government land.
Illegal Mining and Mining mafia
Una district has become the hub of illegal mining as most material mined from the district flows to Punjab and Haryana. People of Bathri- a village on the border of Punjab and Himachal, are alleging that the mining mafia is destroying their lands by mining in the middle of the night. However, officials blame it on the undemarcated borders of both states, as per the report.
Not only the people of Bathri, according to the petitioner (in the 2021 order of the NGT), thousands of trucks are being loaded beyond the required capacity and running on the roads in utter violation of the norms fixed by the government. The petitioner also alleged that the truck-tippers are being overloaded which is causing damage to the roads, causing pollution in the area, inconvenience to people on the roads and accidents are taking untimely lives of the people at large.
The enormity of the illegal mining in Una can be gauged from the fact that the police have raised a special force stationed in Una under a DSP to check illegal mining. Despite all this, illegal mining is continuing. The mining mafia, it is an admitted fact, enjoys political patronage too.
Mining has been banned on the Swan riverbed till the middle of September during monsoon as per the orders of the High Court. According to reports, mining officer Neeraj Kant has said that 329 challans have been issued against those resorting to illegal mining in the district and a fine of Rs 42,92,900 has been realised.
Despite that, tractor trolleys collecting sand from the riverbeds can be seen in Santokhgarh. Sources said the local political pressure and demand for mining material for construction works were the driving force for illegal mining.
Shortage of Staff in Mining Department
SP Arjit Sen told The Tribune that the police had registered 97 cases of illegal mining this year and realised a fine of Rs 7,48,300 from the culprits. He said five trucks, 26 tippers, 63 tractor trolleys and 3 JCB machines had been impounded.
He also said that the police had forwarded the details of some people involved in illegal mining to the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and requested that the ED conducts an inquiry into properties acquired by people involved in illegal mining.
On top of this, The Mining Department has inadequate staff for day and night monitoring of illegal mining operations. It has one mining officer, one inspector, two assistant inspectors and eight guards. Of these, two mining guards have been deputed on the check post at Bathri.
Several officials have also highlighted lacunae in the mining Act. As per the existing Act, if any vehicle or equipment is found engaged in illegal mining, the officer can issue a challan of Rs 50,000 to the violator. If the vehicle or equipment is seized two times, the challan has to be sent to the court. However, no records are being kept on the number of challans issued.
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