CHANDIGARH: The Punjab forest department has decided to arm its staff after six officers were allegedly attacked by a sand mining mafia on Monday.
"We have decided to provide weapons to our staff because it is impossible to guard without weapons," Forest Minister Sadhu Singh Dharamsot said here today.
The minister said four men have been arrested for the attack.
The officers were attacked by five to seven assailants with sticks and sharp-edged weapons on Monday night when they intercepted a tractor-trolley near Seonk village in Mohali.
Block forest range officer Devinder Singh and forest guard Karnail Singh were admitted at Chandigarh's PGIMER hospital.
Devinder Singh's condition was stated to be "very critical".
He suffered multiple skull fractures, doctors said.
The four others escaped with minor injuries.
The minister said a proposal to provide arms to the forest department staff will be put before the state Cabinet.
"Whoever is behind this attack, even if belongs to a political outfit including the Congress, will not be spared," Dharamsot said.
However, he accused the previous Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP regime of supporting the sand mafia in the state.
But SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal charged that the current Congress government was refusing to rein in the mafia.
Satpreet Singh Satti, Satwinder Singh, Jagjit Singh and Inderjit Singh have been booked for attempt to murder and a tractor-trolley and a car recovered from them, the minister said.
Dharamsot said the state government will provide financial assistance of Rs 50,000 each to the two critically injured and Rs 21,000 each to the other four.
The department will also honour them with bravery awards and two additional increments.
Sukhbir Singh Badal today condemned the attack on the forest officers, saying it proved that the state had descended into "jungle raj".
"The sand mafia has become so bold that it is ready to murder government officials coming in the way of its illegal operations," the SAD president said in a statement.
He said the SAD will now approach Punjab Governor V P Singh Badnore and urge him to direct the state to take action against the sand mafia.
The party will also take up the issue of environmental damage caused by illegal mining, including changes to the course of Sutlej river and erosion of cultivable land.
Badal said the Congress "greed" to take over sand mining operations came to light when "as many as 17 mines being bagged by family members and associates of Congress legislators on the basis of single bids".
He listed other incidents of violence in the recent past against officials trying to stop illegal mining, including an attack on mining department general manager T S Sekhon.
Badal said the clout enjoyed by the sand mafia was such that no concrete action was taken even after Chief Minister Amarinder Singh tweeted about illegal mining on the Satluj riverbed after a recent helicopter survey.