Sandeep Singh: Locals Believe Illegal Sand Mining Running Rampant In Rupnagar District

Welcome to the shady and lucrative world of illegal sand mining in Punjab, where sand mafias mine the resource critical for concrete production with impunity

Sandeep Singh
March 4, 2021 | 4 min. read

A man sporting a green turban stops a dump truck coming from the Sutlej River overloaded with sand. 

“Show the receipt”, he says referencing the cargo.

The paperwork shows that the dump truck is only loaded with seven tonnes. That does not make sense, the man says. He claims that these dump trucks usually hold about 30 to 35 tonnes when overloaded like this. 

He then stops another dump truck, again overloaded with sand. And, again, the paperwork shows it is only carrying seven tonnes. This is a common pattern, the man shares, the quantity of sand coming from what appears to be a local sand mining operation is being severely under-reported. 

Welcome to the shady and lucrative world of illegal sand mining in Punjab, where sand mafias mine the resource critical for concrete production with impunity.

My journey here started after I was tagged in tweets containing videos of youth claiming illegal mining is occurring across villages in Rupnagar District, including Sultanpur, Rasidpur, and Maulna where cranes are busy at work. 

Since the farm protests began at Delhi’s borders, there have been multiple reports of illegal sand mining occurring across the state unimpeded, including from residents living on the banks of the Sutlej.

The man in the green turban is Gurnam Singh, a farm leader and the president of BKU (Kadian) Rupnagar District. He claims that illegal mining is being carried out in the garb of desilting, which is a process of cleaning sediment from a body of water. 

"We had stopped this alleged desilting work and then blockaded the site in protest. A government minister then held a meeting at the Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) office in Chamkaur Sahib where they asked about our opinions on what was happening. We told them that we are afraid of mining being carried out in the name of desilting,” he continues, “We also expressed fears that this illegal mining will change the direction of water which may lead to breaches in the river. We have already suffered a lot last year. In response, the minister formed a committee of sarpanches belonging to a particular political party. They have restarted the work now. "

Standing on a road close to Bela Bus Stand in Rupnagar he points towards overloaded dump trucks coming from the Sutlej. That is where I head to next to see what is exactly going on. 

I meet a youth familiar with what is happening near the river. He speaks to me on the condition of not being named.

“Mining is being carried out in the name of desilting. They have even changed the direction of water using cranes. The administration is not taking any action and no one is ready to speak against them,” he continues, “Due to mining during monsoon season, a breach in Sutlej may come which will lead to a flood in our area. This is an ecological disaster in waiting. But, we can’t name anyone because big names are involved in the work. It is too risky.”

Parveen Makowal, a local from the area, shares much of the same but also how previous illegal sanding is compromising the river and contributing to a major environmental problem for residents. 

"Last year, the Sutlej was about to breach from here. People cut trees to strengthen the boundaries of the river. A senior minister had come at that time as well to help with the precautionary measures, but where is he now?”

We get in touch with the Deputy Commissioner (DC), District Mining Officer, and the SDM of the area to ask about these allegations.

Rupnagar DC Sonali Giri dismisses local concerns and explains that a process is being followed before any mining is done, including references to the committee which Gurnam Singh had mentioned beforehand. A committee that is allegedly made up of individuals belonging to a certain political party. 

“A committee was formed that includes villagers, panchayat members, mining officials, and the SDM which meets fortnightly to discuss the process and the mining activity. Only after proper site visits and consultations is the mining activity being carried out,” she adds, “The requisite authority for monitoring the site on a daily basis is given to the committee."

SDM Chamkaur Sahib Harpreet Singh Atwal was curt in his response to our questions regarding overloaded dump trucks and threats to the river. 

“Not every person telling you something is true.”

District Mining Officer Sukhwinder Singh Kalsi echoed the desilting explanation similar to what Gurnam Singh and locals had warned me about earlier.

"There was a narrow waterway in Sutlej river. Actually, it's not mining but desilting. We started work only after taking villagers in confidence."

Kalsi continues by sharing with us the structure being used to pay for the work.

"The government would typically pay contractors to get the desilting work done. But as the government is going through a financial crisis, we will instead get money from the contractors after they sell the sand gathered by desilting. According to quantity, the government will get around 5 crore rupees and landowners will make money too."

We ask him about the numerous overloaded dumpers with fake receipts showing the underreporting of the quantity of sand being taken from the river. Kalsi tells us he will talk to us after half an hour. It has been over 24 hours now and we have yet to hear from him including after follow-ups. This story will be updated when a response is provided. 

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Sandeep Singh hails from Machhiwara, Punjab. As an independent journalist, he has worked with many prominent Indian news organizations. Sandeep has been following the farmer’s protest in Punjab since its onset and traveled with them to Delhi. He spends most of his time at the Singhu border protest site. You can follow Sandeep on Twitter @Punyaab


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