Tribals up in arms in Lahaul valley

Kuldeep Chauhan

The tribals in Lahaul valley are up in arms and have accused the contractors, responsible for constructing the 8.82-km Rohtang tunnel, of carrying out illegal mining activity along the Chandra River and near the Sissu tourist village project, which is located near the north portal of the Rohtang tunnel.

Tribals said the contractors working under the Border Roads Organisation’s (BRO) project, were taking their mineral wealth, including boulders, muck and gravel lying along the Chandra River, without getting the no objection certificate from the gram sabha. This NOC is mandatory under the Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 (PESA), as the site is located in the fifth schedule tribal areas.

Meanwhile, the project contractors have stopped the transportation of minerals from the site after snowfall in the valley. The affected tribals have warned that they would move the High Court if the Mining Department allows them to carry out fresh mining activity along the Chandra River in the valley without getting the gram sabha’s permission.

To substantiate their charges, the protesting tribals claim they have made videos of the mining activity at the site, where earth-moving machines and tippers can be seen carrying minerals and boulders on the link road that connects this site with the tunnel road.

“We will show it as an evidence to the government as to how mining is being carried out without getting the gram sabha’s permission under PESA,” said Pram Chand, a resident of Sissu panchayat and a retired police officer.

Earlier also, the mahila mandal members stopped the mining activity twice at the site in October. Instead of stopping mining, the contractors brought policemen at the site to scare them away, he said.

The villagers took the matter with the Deputy Commissioner, Lahaul-Spiti, who had assured them all help. 

“The gram sabhha’s permission is needed if the company is carrying out mining in the scheduled area, but they did not get the permission. Moreover, we are concerned that mining will divert the course of the river that can threaten the tourist village project of Sissu,” said Suman Thakur, pradhan, gram panchayt, Sissu.

But the project authority and contractors cited the copy of the permission given by the state geologist on October 25 for carrying and using the muck and boulders dumped on the site. They claimed that the site was leased to the project authority 10 years ago. “We are developing the leased site and using minerals for tunnel work as per the permission,” they claimed.

On the other hand, state geologist Puneet Guleria said the department had given permission to the project authority of the BRO for using the muck and boulders on the site. The department has given permission for the development of land for using 10.000 MT of minerals dumped there, he said.

Guleria said the site was already diverted for the project. “The contractor needs no fresh permission under PESA as per the rules. But if they were found carrying out illegal mining outside the allotted site, we will take action,” he said.

Protesting tribals, however, trashed the contractors’ claims charging that they were misguiding the state Mining Department. “They were carrying out fresh digging and mining for which they did not bother to consult us,” Prem Chand said.

The tribals further alleged that there was a nexus running between different officials and the contractors. The site in question was given for the development of project colony in 2010. But the project authority built the colony near the north portal of the Rohtang tunnel, tribals claimed.

Instead, the mining site was given to the project near Koksar. “But it is far away from the project site. The contractor firm is making money by using the site near Sissu tourist village for mining, for which they should have sought permission from the gram sabha under PESA,” they charged.