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Illegal mining on Chaki river continues

Continued illegal mining in the Chaki river along the Punjab-Himachal border is threatening national and state infrastructure, including railway bridges, roads and water supply schemes. While there has been a complete ban on mining in river beds by the National Green Tribunal, sources told The Tribune that mining had been taking place in the river bed in the early hours in Himachal.

Villagers residing along the banks of the Chaki alleged that some miscreants used heavy cranes for illegal mining in the early morning hours. They kept their men posted along the road to keep guard of any raids by officials while illegal mining was on.

The fact that illegal mining has been going on in the area is illustrated by the fact that a large number of trucks laden with crushed material pass through the area every day and pay tax at the excise and taxation barrier of the Himachal Government. A truck laden with crushed material recently killed a local woman after which villagers ransacked the excise and taxation barrier.

The area that is prone to illegal mining includes lands owned by the Damtal temple. The temple owns hundreds of acres land along the borders of Punjab and Himachal and a huge stretch of the Chaki that in fact lies on the border of both the states.

Earlier, the Damtal temple was being governed by a mahant. Many unscrupulous people had taken land on lease from the mahant for peanuts and installed stone crushers there.

They mined in the Chaki to such an extent that its river bed in some areas has gone down by about 40 to 50 feet.

About two years ago, the Himachal Government took over the Damtal temple in keeping with Supreme Court orders. There was a move by the district administration to evict the illegal occupants of the Damtal temple land. In this process, many stone crushers were also stopped. The process is still going on and the administration is finding it difficult to remove the encroachers.

However, illegal mining is still taking place as the area in the river bed of Chaki is very vast and it is difficult to guard it constantly.

Many government departments, including the Indian Air Force, Railways, National Highways and Irrigation and Public Health Department of the Himachal Government, have been writing to the district authorities regarding the threat posed to their infrastructure due to illegal mining. Even the Himachal High Court took cognisance of damage being caused to railway bridges due to illegal mining and appointed a committee under deputy commissioner Kangra to suggest measures to check the menace. The committee has suggested a complete ban on mining within 1 km of the railway bridges that was accepted by the court.

The railway service to the Kangra valley remained suspended for many months after the railway bridge on the Chaki got damaged.

Sources here also indicated that the Chaki riverbed had been eroding every year during monsoons. The department should start the work for reclaiming the riverbed through plantation and other methods to save national infrastructure.

Deputy Commissioner, Kangra, Paul Rasu said they had implemented a complete ban on mining in the Damtal temple land. However, if any mining activity was noticed, strict action would be taken against the miscreants.

The Tribune (26-11-2013)