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Environment

Kangra mining mafia assault case: Police held back from taking action

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Mining mafia active in Indora region of Kangra district abducted Puran Chand of Mand-Myani, almost beat him to death with sticks and iron rods, and threw him near Nangal Boor bordering Punjab.

Shimla: Though the Chief Minister Jairam Thakur led Bhartiya Janata Party has been harping about the elimination of mining, forest, and drug mafia in Himachal Pradesh, but in speeches and media statements only.

In its media statements, the new government has taken expeditious action and is up in arms against the mafia, just like the previous government.

The mining mafia had only emboldened during the previous Congress-led government, and it continues to grow after the BJP romped into power in assembly elections held in November.

Now, the situation has become such that mafia has begun to abduct and assault villagers, who are daring to protest against the destruction of the rivulet. The police is yet again held back by the patrons of the mafia.

On January 30, the mining mafia active in Indora region of Kangra district abducted Puran Chand of Mand-Myani, almost beat him to death with sticks and iron rods, and threw him near Nangal Boor bordering Punjab.

He was first taken to the Civil Hospital in Pathankot, and then to Tanda Medical College, Kangra, in a critical condition.

After nine days of the attack, the culprits, identified as stone-crusher owners, are at large not because our police is incompetent, rather because our leaders and government have always been ceding the control to the mafia.

The cause of failure of police needs no explanation considering the fact that the police had filed a complaint against eight assaulters named by the victim. The Chief Minister had visited the victim and had assured him justice, which proved to be only a media statement so far.

Enraged over the inaction of the police, the people had gheraoed the police station, Indora on January 31. They demanded booking the culprits for an attempted murder (Section 307 IPC). The district administration failed to pacify the situation and had to face the wrath of people, who shouted anti-police slogans.

Isn’t it strange that despite the establishment of the Sub-divisional Magistrate (SDM) office in the region, illegal mining still goes on with no fear of the law?  

As per the allegations labelled by villagers,  the explanation of this inaction of the district administration and police lies in the fat monetary benefits offered by the stone crushers and miners.

This conflict between the common people and growing influence of the mafia is going on for years, but the situation worsened between 2014 to the current date.

As per the Kisan Sabha Unit of Kangra, Puran was playing a leading role in the protest against the illegal miners since 2014, which is why he was targeted to terrorize locals.

Now, the villagers are opposing the movement of tippers carrying mining material. In return, the stone crushers are also obstructing a small bridge to harass the villagers.

Along with the mafia,  the government seems to have lost the fear of law too, because the State High Court and the National Green Tribunal (NGT), in 2017, had made serious observations regarding the illegal mining and had imposed a complete ban on mining in tributaries of the Beas. 

Following the orders, the administration and the mining department registered several cases for a while but soon discontinued their surveillance due to reasons unknown.

The transfers of IPS Gaurav Singh from Baddi and Sanjeev Gandhi, former superintendent of police, Una, are sufficient to support the allegation of patronage to mafias by the government.

Gandhi had tightened the noose around the mining mafia by launching a special drive for this purpose. In March 2017, the police had even caught the offenders red-handed in Damtal region of the district and seized JCBs and vehicles found on the spot.

However, the amount of money and politicians or their relatives who are, directly or indirectly, involved in illegal mining, make the government agencies accede to mafia raj.      

In 2017, Gandhi was slapped three different transfer orders in just 17 days.

He went after the miners in the district who was supplying the illegally mined material to the neighbouring state of Punjab and registered 27 cases against illegal mining.

However, as a reward, his transfer order was issued in his absence within two days after the stone crusher owners and illegal miners exerted pressure on the BJP government.

Previously, during the Congress government, Gandhi, then posted as SP Kangra, had launched a similar drive against the mining mafia. He had registered 17 FIRs alongwith action against 950 violations in just seven months during his tenure in 2016-2017.

During that period, several machines and vehicles were seized by the authorities, which were later released unlawfully.  

The mining mafia in the district heaved a sigh of relief when the administration released impounded vehicles in a gross violation of rules and the NGT in its specific orders had directed the state agencies not to release such vehicles.  Sources said with the intervention of senior officers of the state government, these vehicles were released,

said a report published in the English daily.

He had even conducted a survey of stone crusher units set up near the Chakki rivulet, a tributary of Beas that marks the boundary between Himachal and Punjab, in the Nurpur and Indora jurisdiction.

Chakki rivulet in the subdivision bordering Punjab and Himachal Pradesh is a witness to the rampant and illegal mining that is threatening over 10 panchayats.  The people in the area are dependent on the Chakki water for irrigation.

Illegal and access mining with heavy machinery is turning the fertile fields into barren land. The mafia has destroyed local paths, water channels, and cremation ground, alleges the villagers.

The rivulet is marked by huge ditches as the mining mafia are not adhering to the rules and regulations for extraction of mining material. The government is bearing the huge loss of revenue as the mafia easily evades royalty and local taxes.

At that time, he was transferred to Una. Within four months, he was again transferred.

In 2016, the state High Court had also taken suo-motu- cognizance of the matter, and the Division Bench comprising Chief Justice Mansoor Ahmad Mir and Justice Sandeep Sharma had questioned the Congress government over regressive actions against honest officials.

Earlier, the Kisan Sabha’s protest had compelled the authorities to visit the mining spots, and they had admitted that illegal mining activity was prevalent in the area. The inspection team had found that the miners had excavated upto a depth of about 40 feet. Despite that, no action was ever taken against the culprits, alleged the Kisan Sabha.

The Sabha has expressed doubts over the intentions of the new government as no action is being taken against the perpetrator. The Sabha has also threatened the government that it will launch a massive protest against it if appropriate action is not taken against the assaulters and other stone crushers and mining mafia active in the region illegally.  

As the government, which has failed to keep the mining mafia at the bay, has recently asked Punjab for demarcation of its boundary. The unclear boundary line makes it easier for miners from Punjab to intrude into Himachal.

In a report published in another English daily, the police officials in Kangra had admitted that when they chase mafia, the Punjab police raise the issue of jurisdiction.

A similar attempt was made during 2015 to take up the matter with Pathankot counterparts seeking demarcation of the boundary along the Chakki Khud.

By delaying the right action, the government is not only condoning the offenders, but also ignoring the gravity of the environmental debacle that the excess, unscientific, and illegal mining is causing.

Environment

Draft National Forest Policy 2018: An invitation to wrath of privatization on forestland

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New Forest Policy of India

Shimla: The Draft National Forest Policy 2018, which is intended to replace the National Forest Policy, 1988, is being perceived as an attempt to privatise the forests on the name of increasing productivity through Public-Private-Partnership model.

Over 150 organizations and environmental activists from all over India including Himachal Pradesh have written to the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) raising objections to the serious flaws in it.

The government came out with this draft last month, for which they had invited comments and suggestions from concerned citizens before April 14.

After this proposal, the tribal, forest rights groups, and conservationists have rejected the policy on various grounds.  The strongest ground is the thrust on ‘production forestry’ and allowing entry of private companies in forestry projects for commercial plantations. 

Another big reason to worry is the authority the new Policy gives to Government to dilute the rights of the tribal people or those dependent on forest resources for their livelihood. The Forest Rights Act 2006 says the resources of a forest belong to its community.

Currently, there are provisions, which empower these forest communities to have a say when it comes to establishing commercial projects in their area. 

The environmental experts are of the opinion that the new policy is snatching this power from the community. It will minimize the resistance from locals while the government and private firms decide the fate of their forests.

Himachal Van Adhikar Manch is one of these 150 signatories of the submission made to the MoEFCC. 

The Manch condemned the draft and said it is facilitating the entry of the private sector in forestry.

Private sector works for profit and profit alone. The only way to protect forests is to make these habitants the incharge and strengthen sustainable forest-based livelihoods,

added the Manch convener, Akshay Jasrotia, added.

While there is a need to review the old policy of 1988, this draft undoes some very important principles that the previous policy had put in place for the protection of forests, strengthening of forest-dependent communities, and their role in this regard, the Manch said.

It is astonishing that this draft policy lacks perspective and recognition that was included in the Forest Rights Act 2006 to address the historical injustice inflicted on the Adivasis and other forest dwellers through the colonization of the forest.

The Act attempts to restore the forests back to its original custodians, caretakers and dependents, the Adivasis and other forest-dwelling people, and put in place democratic mechanisms to govern the forests’ said the memorandum.

However, the draft policy does not recognise such aspects. 

The policy comes close to the heels of another legislation called Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act, which has created an institutional mechanism for the utilisation of funds realised in lieu of forest land diversion for non-forest or developmental projects.

The objective of the Fund Act is to mitigate the impact of diversion of such forestland for dams, mines, industries etc.

However, the Act does not put in any safeguard to ensure that the community has a say in the process of utilisation of the funds for activities on forest land. It is in striking contrast to the provision for forest-dwelling communities in the FRA Act. 

In Himachal, where close to 70% of the geographical area is technically under forest land, the implementation of the FRA has been poor as it is. Forestland dependent people are being evicted by being labelled encroachers,

said Manshi Asher, a member of  Himdhara Collective,  and also a signatory to the submissions made to the MoEFCC.

Moves like the CAMPA and 2018-forest policy will further alienate people from forests and lead to conflicts. The forest department and private corporations will be taking on plantation drives in forests on which the locals are already dependent

, Manshi added. 

Is India’s Forest Cover Really Increasing?

As per the draft National Forest Policy, 2018, there has been an increase in forest and tree cover over the last decades and a “reduction in the diversion of forest land for other land uses despite compelling demands from the increasing population, industrialization, and rapid economic growth”.

 However, the State of the Forest Report 2017 says the forest cover has changed in the country and that there is an increase of one percent.

There is no separate data for plantations and forests, which makes it difficult to understand the actual extent of deforestation of natural forests, as well as the hidden diversion of forestland to industries. 

Many experts have pointed out that the reported increase in forest and tree cover does not necessarily include natural forests but manmade industrial /commercial monoculture plantations. 

In fact, the current diversion of forestlands to various “development” schemes is fast changing the landscape and degrading natural forests.

 According to an analysis by the Delhi-based environment group, Environment Impact Assessment Resource and Response Centre, the Indian government has, on an average, diverted 122 sq km of forests for development projects every year between 2014 and 2017.

This is equivalent to a forestland of the size of 63 football grounds being cleared every day for three years. In other words, in one day, India loses around 135 hectares of natural forestland due to development schemes.

Natural forests serve as a gene pool resource and help to maintain ecological balance. These forests need to be protected.

However, the draft National Forest Policy 2018, despite stating this objective, appears not to be in favor of conservation and regeneration of forests but for capture of forests by private, corporate entities through PPPs, production forestry, increasing productivity of plantations, production of quality timber and ignores fuel-wood and fodder for communities dependent on it

, Akshay Jasrotia added.

The Draft clearly facilitates the forest-industry interface. You can read detailed submission made to the MoEFCC here.

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Shimla city’s first grid-connected solar plant to save Rs. 97 lakhs on bill

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Solar power plants in Shimla city

Shimla: Shimla city today received its first grid-connected Solar Power Plant. The 34 KW plant is installed on the rooftop of the Himachal Pradesh Department of Environment, Science, and Technology.

This plant has been installed at a cost of Rs 19.23 lakh. In next 25 years, the plant is expected to save about Rs 97 lakhs on the electricity bill.  It was estimated that the plant will recover its installation and other expenditure within four to five years. Thereafter, it will generate revenue for the State.

The plant feature 112 solar panels of 1315 watt capacity per panel. The State Electricity Board has installed a bi-directional meter in the office premises to ensure energy inflow and outflow from solar plant to main electric grid.  

The information was provided by the Additional Chief Secretary and Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister, Manisha Nanda.

The Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur inaugurated the plant. Director Department of Environment, Science and Technology, D.C. Rana and other senior officers of the department were also present on the occasion.

The solar energy is not only environment-friendly but also cost-effective. Such power plants would be set up not only in government establishments but also on private houses as well, the Chief Minister said.

Adopting renewable energy technology such as solar plants in office premises will not only save energy but also help in environmental conservation.

If each one of us adopts solar-based energy technologies, we all can contribute towards energy saving and to a great extent meet the energy demand of the world,

he said.

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PCB installs 12 electronic screens in Himachal, will display air quality

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HP PCB Electronic displays

Shimla: The State Government of Himachal Pradesh has launched 12 electronic display screens of the State Pollution Control Board,

The State PCB will provide complete detail of PM.10, Nitrogen Oxides and Sulfur Dioxide amounts in the air in the respective area.

These Screens have been installed at Shimla and Dharamshala towns and one each at Baddi, Damtal, Kala Amb, Manali, Parwanoo, Poanta Sahib, Sundernagar and Una at cost of Rs. 35 lakh, the government said.

In addition to this, these screens will also display details regarding environmental issues such as water and noise pollution, civil and bio-medical waste management, water management and temperature of the concerned cities.

The purpose, the government said, is to create environmental awareness and monitor, maintain a salubrious environment of the state.

Additional Chief Secretary Manisha Nanda, Member Secretary State Pollution Control Board Dr R.K. Pruthi and other officers of the Board were present during the launch by the Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur.

There is, indeed, a dire need of creating awareness and taking preventive steps against the environmental pollution. Pollution is on rising in towns of Himachal. The Municipal Councils of respective districts do not have waste treatment plants and still use landfill sites.

The civic body of the capital Shimla is itself indulged in burning garbage in open. The construction has worsened the dust pollution while deforestation is taking place on a massive scale for the developmental projects like four lanes.

Feature Photo: Representational Purpose Only

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