Because of the short supply of sand and gravel in the state against overwhelming demand, illegal mining cannot be stopped completely, former Punjab minister of the industries and mining Anil Joshi has said.
However, during his tenure as mining minister, steps had been taken to keep it under check, Joshi told the media here on Saturday. He was in the city a day after taking charge of the local bodies department. Jalandhar North legislator KD Bhandari, former mayor Rakesh Rathore, mayor Sunil Jyoti, and district Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Subhash Sood were present.
The former minister was thrown questions about illegal mining when he started his proceedings by remembering Hindustan Times principal correspondent Jasdeep Malhotra, who had died in an accident on September 22 while on mission to expose sand mafia after reporting on "goonda tax" on sand mining in Pathankot.
"Punjab is the first state that tried to bring transparency by introducing e-auctioning," said Joshi. "Because of the shortage of mining areas, illegal mining cannot be stopped completely in the state but wherever we have got any clue, the industry department has taken action," he said.
Police had registered more than 1,500 first-information reports (FIRs) and the state government had suspended several officials, said Joshi, adding that now more than 51 hectares would be opened for mining and mine auction. "Once it is done, the supply will be normalised and there will no illegal mining in the state," he said.
Joshi also faced queries on the poor performance of the local bodies department, earlier controlled by his party's most senior leader in the state, Chunni Lal Bhagat. Carefully, he avoided criticising him and said: "Laying down transparent and corruption-free system in my department will be my priority."
Senior officers and the heads of all civic bodies would meet on Tuesday to review the projects in pipeline, he said.
Playing safe on Sidhu
On the questions about the issues raised by Amritsar MP Navjot Singh Sidhu, Joshi played safe and said: "All relate to public. We were at work already to ensure money for the development of Amritsar. Many areas even in my constituency need development," he said. Asked why Sidhu was unaware of the efforts, minister tried to be evasive. "All issues have been resolved," he said.