Illegal mining mafia causing damage to BRO’s Ujh bridge, Admn in deep slumber

An excavator digging near Ujh bridge and loading Tipper at Kotpunnu in Kathua. -Excelsior/Pardeep
An excavator digging near Ujh bridge and loading Tipper at Kotpunnu in Kathua. -Excelsior/Pardeep

Despite protests by villagers, G&M officials unmoved
Gopal Sharma
KATHUA, Jan 15: Illegal mining mafia in connivance with some groups from Punjab and insiders in the G&M Department, is carrying out its activities by digging deep river bed near prestigious BRO’s bridge over river Ujh, posing great threat to its existence on Old Samba-Kathua road near Kotpunnu village in Kathua district, bordering Pakistan and Punjab.
Constructed by Project SAMPARK of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) and funded by the Ministry of Defence, Govt of India, Rs 50.01 crore amount was spent on this 1000 mt long Segmental Box Girder bridge over river Ujh near India Pak border. This also connects Bamyal and other nearby Punjab ( Gurdaspur) villages with J&K. This vital bridge was inaugurated by Defence Minister, Rajnath Singh in presence of MoS in PMO Dr Jitendra Singh in April 2019.
Official sources told the Excelsior that as per existing guidelines and norms of Environment Assessment authorities and NGT directives besides advisory of the PW(R&B) authorities, no mining activity is permissible within 500 meters above and down stream of any bridge as it may cause damage to the foundations/ pillars during flash floods. It may cause great threat to the existence of the bridge. Even in the miner mineral auction agreement also, there are clear instructions to the operators/ lease holders not to carry out any mining activities near the important or other bridges besides vital defence installations.
But interestingly, in sheer violation of the existing norms and guidelines, the mining mafia people are carrying on their illegal activities even within 200-250 mts above and below this important 1 (one) km long bridge over river Ujh near Kotpunnu. Despite protests by the locals of the area, their voice has remained unheard as the mafia appears to be more influential while district administration appears to be in deep slumber.
Locals of the area told the ‘Excelsior’ that mostly the operation is carried out during night hours. The excavators and Double Tippers appear in the river bed and start activity. Such loud is the sound emitted by these machines that nearby villagers are unable to even sleep during night hours. This activity goes on till early hours in the morning. They said at some spots, mafia has conducted digging even 15 to 20 feet down the river bed and that too, hardly 150-200 mts from the bridge. With this the water table in the area has also been depleted and many hand pumps have gone dry/ defunct. This illegal activity is also affecting irrigation potential in the entire belt.
Official sources said that recently some senior officers of Project SAMPARK of Border Roads Organisation had visited the site and they raised objections with the District Magistrate Kathua and officials of the G&M department besides officials of Flood Control Department concerned. After taking permission from the DM, they had diverted the flow of water away from 2-3 bridge pillars which had been nearly exposed. They used excavators and JCBs to make some repair works and also warned the concerned agencies that this vital bridge, very important as per defence point of view, may be exposed to floods if this illegal activity was not checked there. They also sought help of the villagers of the area in this regard.
Village Sarpanch, Vinay Sharma when contacted said that they had reported the matter to the Geology and Mining department at Kathua several times but there is no impact on any of them. They held protests and even took up the matter with DC Kathua as well. A team from district visited the area but after few weeks again same activity started. He said there is no control on the rate of the sand and gravel. During last one and half years, the rates of miner mineral have gone three times high. The District Administration had fixed rates but the crusher owners and others are charging rates at their own sweet will.
Replying to a question, he said major damage to the rivers on our side, whether it is Ujh or Ravi, is being caused by the mining mafia from Punjab. But it is operating with the connivance of some people in the G&M Department and local Administration and concerned police agencies. There is need to keep check on the illegal activity. Moreover, there are 5-6 crushers along the river in that belt and they are continuing with their activity beyond their limitations.
District Mineral Officer (DMO), Kathua, Devinder Singh when contacted said that they conduct raids when get any such information. But this mafia, mostly carries its activity during night hours. He said some months back he had fined some parties heavily. Singh claimed that no one can operate within 500 mt distance from the river in Ujh and one km in river Ravi.
DMO further claimed that he has shortage of staff. Hardly 9 employees were working in the district office, moreover, for operations he needs coordinated support from District Administration and Police. He claimed that there is police post at the bridge and he has told them to intimate when any such activity takes place.
District Magistrate Kathua, OP Bhagat, however, when contacted said he was not aware of the activity but admitted that some time back, BRO officials had taken up the issue with regard to some filling activity near the bridge as the pillars had been exposed. They sought permission and did some work after floods. The DM claimed that he would initiate an inquiry into the matter and take appropriate action as this is very vital bridge raised by Ministry of Defence and was inaugurated hardly two years ago by Defence Minister , Rajnath Singh.