Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal on Tuesday said the ban imposed by the National Green Tribunal on unauthorised mining or removal of sand from river beds would have no impact on the policy decision taken by the Punjab government about three months ago.
Sukhbir said the tribunal had made it clear that mining or removal of sand from river beds could be done with prior approval and after getting clearance from the environmental authorities. "Punjab is already adhering to this norm. Hence, the tribunal order will have no impact on the state government's policy to extract sand from river beds," added Sukhbir.
The state government has to get clearance from the state environment impact assessment authority if the size of the quarry is less than 5 hectares. However, if the area of the quarry is more than 50 hectares, the permission has to be obtained from the union forest and environment ministry.
Sukhbir, however, said the union ministry caused unnecessary delay in granting clearance to the states for sand mining.
"Even the effort of climbing Mount Everest would pale in front of the one the state government makes to get clearance from the environment ministry. Sometimes, the ministry takes months and at times even more than three years to give clearance to mining, causing utter shortage of the commodity in the market," the deputy CM said.
The Punjab government had decided in May to dig river beds in the state not only to fulfil the growing demand of sand but also to control the skyrocketing rate of the material.
The government was of the view that open availability of sand under government control would bring down the rate by nearly 50%.
The decision was taken at the cabinet meeting on May 28 with the aim of providing relief to the common man by making sand available at a much lower price than the market rate.
The SAD-BJP government has often drawn flak for its inability to rein in the sand mafia, which is selling these commodities at highly inflated rates at will.
According to a preliminary survey conducted by the state industries department, the total length of all river beds in Punjab is about 260 km, including the Beas, Ravi and Sutlej rivers.
As per the decision, the government would auction 200 to 250 quarries of 5 hectares each on river beds. Once sand is dug out, the government would sell it to the public at a controlled rate.
Meanwhile, the state government has given the go-ahead to quarrying on the Sutlej river bed at Parjian village in Biharipur area near Ludhiana.
"We have chosen Ludhiana, where the construction activity is almost 35% of that in the entire state, for the pilot project from where the government would sell sand at a controlled rate. Once the experiment is successful, we will extend this facility to other districts," said Sukhbir.