“PAAJI, YOUR KIDS go to which school?”
I had been talking for about twenty minutes at the Barista in Chandigarh’s Sector 17 to a man who identified himself as Ranbir. I immediately understood the question to be a polite threat. Ranbir had earlier refused to come to my office at the Hindustan Times, where I then worked, and insisted on meeting at the café for the sake of his “anonymity as an informer.” He soon became more direct: “Our request is that you stop writing on illegal sand mining in Pathankot.” He was referring to what is broadly known as the mining mafia. He assured me that “they” would have “no objections” if I chose to continue writing about illegal sand mining in other places.
After the encounter with Ranbir, I went to the office of Sushminder Singh, the state geologist of Punjab. I was meeting Singh to inquire about the legal quarries for sand and gravel auctioned across the state. In the middle of this interview, two muscular men barged into the room and sat on either side of my chair. They began interrogating me about my work on the mining issue. The geologist, who seemed friendly with them, did nothing to remove them from his office or try and intervene to neutralise the situation.