Stopping illegal mining

What is illegal sand mining?

Sand mining is termed as illegal when the necessary government environmental guidelines like the Sustainable Sand Mining Management Guidelines 2016 are not followed and clearances not obtained while excavating sand, normally used in the construction and manufacturing industries. There are norms set for the distances of the mines  from river beds and lakes, as well as the depth of mining, and non-adherence is not only  obviously dangerous to the environment, but also brings losses to the exchequer

Sand mining situation in Punjab

The sand mafia had taken control of a lot of areas in Punjab over the years and activists claim that they operated in conjunction with the local administration, without paying royalties and even imposing goonda taxes on the owners of stone crushers. In fact, even former Congress CM Channi’s nephew was chargesheeted by the Enforcement Directorate for illegal mining and the ED had revealed in a statement that he had received Rs 10 crore cash for facilitating sand mining operations and for transfer or posting of officials in the state.

Political will  

Only an honest and sincere government can stop this illegal mining. The change was sudden and visible as soon as AAP won the Punjab Assembly elections.

Reports started coming in about some illegal sand mines stopping their activities even before Bhagwant Mann was sworn in as Chief Minister on March 16, 2022.

As soon as the Mining Minister assumed office, he stated on March 22, 2022 that a new Mining Policy would be announced in 6 months.

AAP MLAs also became proactive in stopping these illegal mining activities.

After the Anti-corruption helpline was set up by the AAP Punjab government on March 23, 2021, reporting such illegal mining activities became all the more easy.

To facilitate further redressals, a toll free number (1800 180 2422) was launched on April 25, 2022 specifically for illegal mining complaints.

The Mining Department of Punjab ordered all stone crushers to display this number, prominently, at their mining sites.  The people can also register complaints regarding high rates of sand. Due to this, as an initial response, FIRS were lodged against 5 people in Ludhiana a day after a complaint was made on the Anti-corruption helpline.  Complaints were followed up in Moga and Fazilka as well. The mining mafia was busted in Hoshiarpur while an officer was suspended in Pathankot.

Combating drug menace

History of drug trade in Punjab 

The drug trade in Punjab can be traced back to the smuggling of gold from Pakistan and Dubai, with Punjab and West Mumbai being the most popular routes those days. With the fall in gold price the focus shifted to heroin, though liquor and drugs were shunned during the militancy period by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale around 1977. With the end of the militancy period heroin resurfaced even stronger as there was joblessness and instability and people needed some kind of intoxicants after being deprived for so long. Hence Punjab became the route for drugs supplied to USA and Europe from the neighbouring countries and some of the youth became addicted as well.

Multiple plans to eradicate drugs

The Punjab Government is working on multiple plans to eradicate drugs.
On May 9, 2022, the Chief Minister Sardar Bhagwant Singh Mann Sahab held a video-conference with the anti-drug special task force (STF). The CM asked the officers to nab the ‘big sharks’ and work without political pressure with a focus on making Punjab a drug-free state.

“A meeting of senior police officers was called to eradicate drugs. Instructed to take strict action against every accused without any pressure. Our youth are victims, not culprits. First we will catch the sellers and break the drug chain, then we will rehabilitate the youth. Our dream – a drug free Punjab”, Bhagwant Mann tweeted (Link)

On May 12, 2022 the Chief Minister, Bhagwant Mann launched a fresh action plan during another high-level meeting with all the District Superintendents of Police, District Deputy Commissioners, Commissioners and Commissionerates, Incharges etc. The emphasis  was to break the supply chain of drugs, thus arresting those actually selling drugs and not the drug addicts who are actually victims of the drug mafia.  Mann also asked the DGP to speed up the process of confiscation of properties belonging to those involved with drug mafia. Special Task Force (STF) teams will be deployed across the state, 4 teams would be deployed in the border areas. The CM announced that  more rehabilitation centres and clinics would be opened for the better treatment of drug-affected patients. Presently there are around 800 drug de-addiction centres in Punjab, whose number would soon be raised to 1000. Thus the addicts will undergo treatment, counselling by psychologists and rehabilitation by providing employment to those who have been afflicted. They will also be tracked to ensure that they do not fall back into addiction.

Creating awareness on a large scale is important to ensure that the youth and the ignorant are not unknowingly led into drugs. As part of this awareness program a massive cycle rally was organised at Sangrur where more than 15,000 cyclists took part led by the CM Bhagwant Mann himself. 

“In the coming days more such awareness initiatives will be embarked on a larger level to promote physical and mental health besides weaning away youth from drug menace by creating awareness. Our government is working on multiple plans to eradicate drugs from the society. More rehabilitation centres and clinics will be opened for the better treatment of drug affected patients. Emphasis will also be laid on providing opportunities to the youth which would help keep them away from drugs”, stated the CM, after flagging off the rally.

(Source: Tweet by PunjabGovtIndia)

Police action

The reconstitution of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) investigating the drug case against SAD leader and ex-Minister Bikram Singh Majithia was the very first order passed by CM Bhagwant Mann to the police on March 20, 2022. IGP-Crime Branch Gursharan Singh Sandhu known for his clean track record will head the 5-member team.

Some of the other arrests made in different parts of Punjab during the early days of the AAP Punjab Government in connection with busting drug smuggling gangs are given in this Twitter thread:

Anti-Gangster Task Force

Gangs in Punjab

As of July, 2022, here are around 70 gangs that operate in Punjab. These gangsters indulge in extortion, kidnapping and murders not only in Punjab but also in other parts of North India. These can be compared to the underworld attacks that occurred in Mumbai in the past. These gangs are also associated with militancy, drug smuggling and even terrorism. Gangsters are now equipped with sophisticated weapons, as seen by the latest murder of Punjabi singer Sidhu Moose Wala on May 29, 2022, allegedly by one of these gangs. Canada-based gangster Goldy Brar from the Lawrence Bishnoi gang claimed responsibility for the murder, while investigations are on-going.

Setting up an Anti-Gangster Task Force (AGTF)

In a bid to wipe out gangsters’ network and to create a sense of security amongst the citizens of Punjab, Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann directed the Punjab Police DGP to establish a full-fledged Anti-Gangster Task Force, on 5 April, 2022. The CM also directed the Jails Department to keep a strict watch on the gangsters residing there.

(Source: Tweet by PunjabGovtIndia)

Police action

While the investigation is going on in the singer Sidhu Moose Wala murder case as per this report dated July 5, 2022, the RPG attack on the Punjab Police Headquarters in Mohali was solved in quick time. Some of the other actions taken by the Police are listed below:

  1. Hoshiarpur – Goonda tax gang
  2. Mohali – Two active members of Lawrence Bishnoi gang
  3. Amritsar – Amritsar Rural Police catches 16 members
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