The Punjab government on Tuesday decided to freeze the online auction of sand mines which ran into rough weather on Monday after some applicants complained that the website was partially blocked deliberately to favour a few.
The government also decided that it would not award contract of the sand mines to any bidder till the Punjab InfoTech submitted a detailed report to clear the air on whether the act of blocking the website was deliberate.
Industries and commerce director Vikas Partap Singh confirmed that the auction had been frozen after the department received complaints from applicants saying the website was deliberately blocked.
"We have decided not to award the contracts till the Punjab InfoTech submits a detailed report," said the director, adding that though there was no specific time given to Punjab Infotech to submit the report, the government expected it to do so at the earliest.
The Punjab government had put 20 quarries on online auction on Monday across the state. However, some applicants had complained to the industry and commerce department that they were unable to make the online bids on the website as it was partially blocked after 11am. As per the policy, the continuous bids could have gone till 2pm.
Though the state government was able to raise around Rs 28 crore from the auction, some applicants said the same could have gone up by several times if the website was not manipulated. Hence, the government suffered on revenue generation.
"The moment the interested parties felt that the bid was going beyond their calculation, they blocked the site. The two quarries for which I had made a bid are Kakrali and Sundra mines on the Ghaggar in SAS Nagar. The auction for these quarries did not go beyond Rs 71 lakh though I was prepared to bid till Rs 5 crore. This is how the government lost big-time money on the auction," said Rajesh Garg, who had made a written complaint to the industry and commerce department.
Scarcity of sand
The government's decision to freeze the auction would only add to the scarcity of sand in Punjab where it is being sold at an exorbitant rate.
According to information, the 20 mines which went for auction on Monday fell in the A category, meaning each has more than five hectares of area. For this category, the permission comes from the union ministry for environment and forest.
Though the union government has recently cleared seven more mines under this category, the clearance from the wildlife department is still awaited. At present, there are more than 200 quarries waiting for clearance from the union as well as the state governments.
"Till the auctions are conducted smoothly to the satisfaction of all parties and quarries start functioning, sand would continue to be scarce and cost more," said Jasbir Singh, a bidder.