Chandigarh: Chhatbir Zoo at risk due to illegal mining as ‘govt looks other way’

A thick forest area next to the zoo has also not been spared by illegal miners, with several stretches dug up and destroyed.

A DAY after Dera Bassi MLA N K Sharma raised the issue of illegal mining in Ghaggar river near Zirakpur, The Indian Express visited the location and found rampant sand mining taking place behind the Chhatbir Zoo, inflicting damage near the anti-flood embankment which protects the former from the river.

A thick forest area next to the zoo has also not been spared by illegal miners, with several stretches dug up and destroyed. Even trees have been carted away from the site along with the sand.

The anti-flood embankment or ‘bandh’ runs parallel to the boundary wall of the zoo for a considerable distance along the Ghaggar. Deep pits have been dug up at several places on both banks of the river. At several areas, the sand mining may have considerably reduced the efficacy of the embankment, thus exposing the zoo to the risk of severe damage in case of floods.

This danger was highlighted by Sharma, a SAD MLA, during Zero Hour in the ongoing Budget session of the Vidhan Sabha when he told the House that the zoo could be in danger due to illegal mining. Sharma told The Indian Express that he had visited the spot recently along with police officials and had found JCB machines parked there, digging sand with impunity.

“This zoo is the biggest in Punjab and it is in danger due to illegal mining. This entire operation is being run under the patronage of certain Congress leaders,” said Sharma in the House, naming a minister and two other Congress leaders close to Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh. The people of the area are fed up because of this problem and in at least 21 panchayats of the area, the menace of illegal sand mining in shamlat land is continuing unabated,” he added.

Additional Deputy Commissioner (ADC) Ashika Jain, who is holding the charge of deputy commissioner, Mohali, said that the matter was in her notice and she had directed the Dera Bassi sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) and area SHO to file an action taken report.

At the site, there are two ‘kutcha’ road tracks which have been developed on either side of the Ghaggar on which heavy trucks ply at night to ferry sand, say local residents. “Earlier, these operations used to continue even during daytime. However, off late these take place at night. A constant stream of tipper trucks operate from this area to the main road,” said Nitu Dhiman, a former member of the panchayat of Chhat village. He added that strongmen remain posted at specific places on the road leading to the river and no one can dare challenge them at night.

“The forest behind the zoo is also being destroyed by the sand mafia while government departments twiddle their thumbs. Soon you will not see a single tree left here. At the site, only the roots of the trees remain. All this is being done at the behest of a Congress minister,” said Sharma.

Joginder Singh, a lambardar of the village and Gurcharan Singh, a former sarpanch, say that apart from the area behind the zoo, a considerable stretch of the Ghaggar’s banks, as it flows past the village, is being subjected to illegal mining. “It is dangerous to even venture towards these sites even during daytime because strongmen keep an eye on whoever enters these pits,” he said.

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