Sensing the fury of nature being unleashed upon them as miners dig out sand rampantly and illegally from the Sutlej riverbed, villagers of the Chamkaur Sahib area are out on a hunger protest. This desperate attempt to force the enforcement authorities to act before it is too late is much needed. Perhaps, social awakening and activism will jolt the establishment out of complacency, and, at times, even collusion between plunderers of the precious resource and officials of the departments of mining, police, irrigation, public works and rural development. The provocation this time is the threat to the studs, built at a cost of Rs 10 crore to arrest erosion, following the extraction of sand. If they give way, the possibility of floods devastating the area during the monsoon will be high. Sadly, scores of earlier havoc-wreaking instances have not elicited effective regulatory or punitive measures. In March 2020, the foundation of the 1-km Agampur bridge on the Sutlej in Anandpur Sahib was weakened as two of its piers had moved dangerously due to the depleted sand.
Despite the Rs 70-crore bridge having been rendered risky, the miners accused of breaching the rule of staying 500 metres away from a bridge seem to be enjoying impunity. High-level orders, too, seem to get crushed under the clout that the sand robbers are alleged to wield. In March 2018, a tweet by CM Amarinder Singh had ruffled some feathers. He made public the spotting of JCB machines mining away on the banks from his helicopter and had ordered a probe with the aim of fixing responsibility. The Punjab and Haryana High Court has rapped the knuckles of the authorities concerned innumerable times for failing to check the loot.
But now, the imminent devastation to people’s lives and livelihoods caused by degradation of ecology looms large. The worry and agitation of Chamkaur Sahib residents is justified. Sustained pressure for remedial measures is the need of the hour. Such a movement holds the key to checking the blatant plunder and punishing the mighty mining mafia.