Notwithstanding Govt claims, illegal mining continues in Kathua, Samba

*Water level depletes in Keedian Gandyal; flora, fauna under threat
Avtar Bhat
KATHUA, Nov 15: Notwithstanding the tall claims of Government of streamlining the mining process in J&K by tightening its noose on the mafia, the unabated illegal mining continues to take place in the twin districts of Kathua and Samba where the mafia rules the roost with common masses feeling insecure.
As per sources, there has been no check on illegal mining in Ravi river in Keedian -Gandyal area of Kathua district where the locals totally are worried as the unabated mining going on in i lIe-gal way is causing a grave threat to ecology and flora and fauna in the area.
Sources said the illegal min- ing has added to the woes of the people and increased their wor- ries as it has turned once the fertile area which was known as the rice bowel of Kathua into a barren land since the concerned authorities have failed to act against the mafia who use both men and muscle power to crush the local voice raised against them.
Sources said the mining mafia have their connections in neighboring States of Punjab, Haryana as well as in Delhi NCR and the sand, bajri and stones extracted from Ravi bed are smuggled to these Sates and sold on exorbitant rates due to lack of check from the concerned authorities of the Mining Department as well as the district administration.
Recently the local Councilor of District Development Council from Keedian Gandyal, Dr Shivita Singh also raised her voice against the illegal mining in the area and sought immediate action from the authorities to curb the activities of the mafia in the Ravi belt but to no avail. Sources said the mining activities take place during the night hours and the material extracted is smuggled to neighboring States under the cover of darkness.
The underground water has not only depleted in the Keedian Gandyal area but up to Kathua town the water level has gone down more than 100 feet below due to increasing illegal mining, said Anju Sharma, a local social activist. She said if any one among locals dares to confront the mafia and raises his voice he or she is being threatened by goons from neighboring State of Punjab.
She said on the one hand Government says illegal mining has been banned and on the other hand tippers and tractors are daily carrying the mining material during night hours. Even some unlicensed crushers also run during night hours in the area under the very nose of the authorities, she added.
How the illegal mining can be contained when some public representatives of the area have established their own crushers in Ravi basin? she asked.
The public representatives considered to be voice of the people when get the pound of flesh so how they will act against the illegal mining or against the unl- icensed crushers, she said.
There is a nexus between offi- cials, mining mafia and some public representatives in the area which needs to be unmasked, she added.
The newly constructed over Rs 150 crore Keedian Gandyal bridge in the area will also be endangered due to illegal mining in the area, said Prem Nath Dogra, senior BJP leader from Kathua and Councilor. The bridge was constructed with personal efforts of Union Minister Dr Jitendra Singh to link the secluded Keedian Gandyal with other parts of J&K UT. But the mining is taking place near its abetments now when there is a total ban of the same in the surrounding 500 meters of the bridge, he added.
Though banned illegal min- ing still continues in Ravi under the very nose of the authorities, he said, adding the mafia of Punjab is active and besides, Punjab they have a chain in the States of Haryana and Delhi. This way the prices of sand and Bajri have sky rocketed in Kathua and adjoining areas. The per tipper of sand which was earlier sold at Rs. 1500 per 100 feet now costs Rs. 2600 and the Bajri which was earlier sold at Rs. 1200 per 100 feet costs Rs. 2200 now, he added.
“The contractors who have taken contracts of various civil works as well as people who are constructing houses under PM Awas Yojna are paying through the nose after the escalation of prices of building material”, said Pardeep Kumar, a local resident. They have even been not given any relaxation by the Government in this regard, he added.
He said the mafia gang is very active in the area and 150 to 200 musclemen are daily roaming in this belt to harass the people who dare to raise voice against illegal mining. The royalty has been increased and the rate from Rs 200 per 100 feet has gone up to Rs 1000.
He said even some crushers function illegally in the area and officials of the Department are ignoring the same. A band along Ravi river to protect Keedian village has been extracted by mining mafia.
He said there are not huge deposits of sand and stones in river Ujh and the entire mining material are extracted from Ravi basin for sale. Deep gorge about 100 feet depth have been made in the river bed which even cause accidents and the hand pumps in the area have totally become dry.
Harnam Singh a resident of Ramnagar, Gandyal said that the entire river bed has been destroyed by mining mafia and it has become a death trap for people. The farming in the area has been totally affected due to illegal mining as there is lack of irrigation water for fields. The had pumps becom dry in the month of June as underground water level has gone down, he added.
Not only in Ravi even there are reports of illegal mining in the river Basanter and Devika in Samba district also which has added to woes of local people in the district. Sources said that the same is oging on in connivance with the officials of the Department.
They said the JCBs and tip- pers are engaged throughout the night in illegal mining in the area.
Even the royalty is taken three to four times more from the tippers and tractors loaded with mining material. But after the people raised hue and cry the District Development Commissioner, Samba tightened noose on them and strictly ordered that the royalty should be cut on prescribed rate of the Government and those violating the same will be dealt under law.
However, illegal mining still continues and crushers mostly work during night hours in the twin river basins in Samba Outrightly denying this the District Mining Officers of Kathua and Samba Bodh Raj and Choudhary respectively said that they have issued strict instructions to the officials to act against those involved in illegal mining. They said the officials of the Department are manning all the spots round the clock and no one is allowed to induge in illegal mining in their respective areas.
The DMO Kathua said there is no complaint of illegal mining in their notice and mining is totally banned all over the UT from 6 pm to 6 am. He said no auction has been made in Ravi river but one lease is operational there while five leases are oper- ational in Ujh river.
The DMO Samba said 99 percent blocks have been auctioned in Samba and there is no illegal mining any where. Earlie prior to auctioning of the block the district administration and Mining Department team had taken the cognizance of Illegal mining and acted strictly against those indulging in it.