State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss yesterday lashed out at widespread illegal digging in his report on the Agriculture Ministry's soil conservation and drainage department.

Lindenstrauss singled out "widespread illegal digging by farmers or contractors." Moreover, he wrote, in many cases the illegal sites are used for illegal garbage dumping afterward, causing further financial and environmental damage to the state. Removing the top layer also increases the danger of polluting underground aquifers, and endangers human life in the dug-up area's vicinity.

The comptroller wrote that the materials dug up are sold for various uses including greenhouses, town gardens, counter-top production, filling material, building platforms and access roads.

The report concludes that in 2002, over five million cubic meters were dug up without permits, not including beach sand, gravel and quarry material. Some 80 percent of the digging occurs on state lands. As a result, it loses out directly on proceeds from the sale of the material, and public funds have to be used to repair the damage stemming from the digging.

Though many officials are in charge of patrolling agricultural land, according to the comptroller, the ministry has yet to work out with other interested parties the responsibility and authority over providing permits and supervising the digging. Nor does the ministry have a set process for farmers interested in digging to turn to the quarrying unit or the Israel Lands Administration (ILA). As a result, the quality and quantity of the material dug is usually checked only after the fact, and diggers do not pay royalties and fees for the materials.

Local draining authorities also allowed illegal digging, in retrospect. The Sharon area authority illegally approved a local contractor to dig in Kibbutz Gaash up to a depth of 25-30 meters. "The contractor turned the site into a quarry in every respect, digging 500,000 cubic meters of sand without a permit from the ILA's quarry supervisor, without a business license, and without paying NIS 6 million in royalties to the ILA," the comptroller found.

Lindenstrauss said the ILA had yet to file a single civil complaint through June 2005, the end of the report's period, or even a civil complaint to collect royalties. Nor did the police open a file, though an ILA security officer reported a serious offense in March 2002.