Ambala: The attack on the convoy of an Ambala IAS officer last week has turned the spotlight on alleged transport mafia operating in Haryana and its neighbouring states. On the night of 18 September, Additional Deputy Commissioner (ADC) and Road Transport Authority (RTA) Secretary Preeti Sabbarwal was attacked by a group of more than 50 people, allegedly members of the mining and transport mafia.
The convoy was attacked near Panjokhra at the Haryana-Punjab border. While the IAS officer escaped unhurt, her gunman Karamvir and driver Kuldeep were assaulted with rods.
“A woman colleague was accompanying me and while the goons pelted stones at my staff’s vehicle, she sat on the driver’s seat in my official vehicle and we rushed to the Panjhokra police station within a couple of minutes,” the IAS officer told ThePrint.
Haryana Home Minister Anil Vij and the Haryana IG were informed of the attack immediately, and the police have arrested 17 accused in the case so far.
149 vehicles challaned since mid-August
Sabbarwal, who joined office on 14 August, had been cracking down on rampant overloading of vehicles in her jurisdiction. According to details accessed by ThePrint, a total of 149 vehicles have been challaned ever since the officer joined in August, collecting nearly Rs 70 lakh in penalty as of 20 September.
According to the authorities, this rattled the “transport mafia” operational across Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and the Uttar Pradesh belt, involving transporters or drivers of trucks and dippers who carry goods from one state to another.
The transport and mining mafia allegedly picks up sand, coarse sand and other construction material from different mining plants or major rivers such as Satluj and Beas but don’t have documents to prove, and most of them do not reveal who their consumers are either.
“This leads to GST theft, overloading leading to infrastructure loss as they do not have licence to mine,” Sabbarwal told ThePrint. “So if a mining officer challans these impounded vehicles, the penalty amount is about Rs 4 lakh per dumper and it involves multiple units across the channel.”
Pathankot, Ropar, Hoshiarpur and Mohali are among the main areas in Punjab where illegal mining is dominant, and for the trucks to reach here, they cross certain points in Haryana, Ambala being one of them, according to officials.
“In the name of land levelling, some people are involved in digging of sand and mud. Trucks full of sand and mud are transported to brick kilns and crushers even though they don’t have licence for the same,” said Rana Singh, a resident of Dera Bassi in Punjab who was earlier in transport business.
Sabbarwal said she wanted to crack down on the transport mafia as she was perturbed by the regular updates regarding overloaded trucks seen at the Punjab-Haryana border. “I never imagined this could be the level of threats I’ll receive,” said the 28-year-old.
The officer has now been provided extra security.
Ambala Inspector General of Police Y. Puran Singh told ThePrint they are leaving no stone unturned to ensure all the culprits are traced and interrogated thoroughly. “Since the Ambala SP (Rajesh Kalia) tested positive for Covid-19, the investigation was slightly slow initially, but we will ensure that the matter reaches its logical end,” he said, adding that all senior police officers are reviewing the matter every day.
Meanwhile, the station house officer of Panjhokra police station said a lot of truck drivers are often caught for overloading and are usually “unable to pay the high penalty amount”.
‘Tiger Zinda Hai’, ‘Har Har Mahadev’, ‘Jai Bajrang Bali’
Sources in the Ambala administration told ThePrint that they discovered members of the mafia were frequently alerted about the surprise checks conducted by the ADC. They also found out that the mafia had stationed people outside the ADC’s office to keep an eye on the IAS officer’s movements.
Those placed outside the office would share details on WhatsApp. Screenshots of WhatsApp conversations exclusively accessed by ThePrint reveal that a local resident was running a WhatsApp group titled ‘Tiger Zinda Hai’, which had about 90 members. The WhatsApp group kept track of live locations of all transporters and drivers of such overloaded vehicles.
The admin members of the group sent regular voice notes regarding the whereabouts of officers and location of surprise checks. The WhatsApp chats accessed by ThePrint showed updates were also shared with other groups — ‘Har Har Mahadev’, ‘Jai Bajrang Bali’ to name a few — spread across UP and Bihar.
Sabbarwal told ThePrint that she sensed something was fishy as she was chased on two other occasions while conducting checks earlier this month. Two FIRs were registered for the incidents on 7 September and 10 September. In one of the instances, goons in a Hyundai i20 car allegedly hit the IAS officer’s vehicle and absconded. A few members of an alleged mafia group were then caught, who revealed they received money for standing all day outside the offices of certain civil servants in Ambala, the ADC claimed.
Ambala Deputy Commissioner Ashok Sharma said the administration has not ruled out the possibility of junior staff acting as ‘moles’ in the ADC’s office. “We cannot rule out black sheep involvement of junior staff in our own office who have been providing information regarding the ADC’s whereabouts to those outside,” Sharma told ThePrint.
Civil servants condemn attack
Some senior civil servants have come out publicly and condemned the episode.
Mohammad Shayin, managing director, Haryana Power Generation Corporation Ltd, said it was unfortunate that someone could dare to take law in their own hands. “There are multiple public forums to file a complaint, one can do that if there was an issue but one shouldn’t restore to threats and attacks on civil servants this way,” he told ThePrint.
Sumita Mishra, another senior IAS officer, who is but based out of Delhi, took to Twitter a day after the incident. “This is shocking & highly condemnable. I hope now @police_haryana will nab the criminals & present a solid challan in court soon. I salute the young officer. @cmohry @anilvijminister #IAS #work,” she tweeted from her account.
This is shocking & highly condemnable. I hope now @police_haryana will nab the criminals & present a solid challan in court soon. I salute the young officer. @cmohry @anilvijminister #IAS #work https://t.co/ZhNvgY7Ubr
— Dr Sumita Misra IAS (@sumitamisra) September 20, 2020
The IAS association also took to the social networking website to urge the Haryana Police to ensure justice in the matter.
We condemn the attack on Ms Preeti, #IAS, Addl DC & Secy RTA Ambala, Haryana who was checking overloaded vehicles.
We request @police_haryana to bring the culprits to justice.
We appreciate the bravery of entire team in performance of their duties.https://t.co/dXilsxYwPu
— IAS Association (@IASassociation) September 20, 2020
Haryana State Commission for Women president Preeti Bhardwaj Dalal has also sought a report from Ambala SP Rajesh Kalia regarding the attack on the ADC and her team.
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