Mining Department told to impose a fine of Rs. 25,000 and take action against those responsible for illegal mining

In an action long overdue, the Himachal Pradesh government has decided to close all link roads laid by the mining mafia to the Beas riverbed from the Mandi-Manali National Highway stretch.

Industries Minister Mukesh Agnihotri, who visited the site where 24 engineering students and a tour operator drowned in the river last Sunday, directed the Public Works Department and the Larji Project management to close all the roads within seven days to check sand-mining from the riverbed. He directed the project administration to ban dumping of sand within the project areas, and asked the Mining Department to check smuggling of sand from the riverbed.

The issue of illegal mining and the political patronage it receives was first reported in The Hindu and later by the State’s vernacular media. “It is a result of this pressure by the media that illegal mining has become an issue and such a statement has come from the government; otherwise, the mining here has been going on unchecked for the past many years,” said Prem Gautam, a workers’ leader.

The mining mafia laid link roads in connivance with the local officials. Tourists travelling on the picturesque highway take these roads to go down for a splash in the river or clicking photographs. The Minister directed the Mining Department to impose a fine of Rs. 25,000 and take action against those responsible for illegal mining.

Search futile

Meanwhile, the search for bodies after taking the water level to its lowest failed on Sunday too despite the use of high-tech devices by the National Disaster Response Force and others. Sixteen students are still missing. A side-scan sonar was used to capture pictures of the riverbed within a radius of five km downstream from the accident site.

The rescuers are now planning to open the floodgates of Pandoh dam near Mandi to reduce the water level in the reservoir. Most of the bodies are now believed to be stuck in the huge, 50-foot-deep reservoir of the Pandoh dam, say NDRF officials. But they fear that if the water is released in a big way, the bodies may be washed away to the Pong dam. The parents of the students, who are involved in daily meetings with the officials, are divided on this strategy.