Minister Rana’s dept identifying desilting sites near mines bagged by ‘friends’
Opposition dubs irrigation minister’s interest in desilting ‘conflict of interest’; department sources say desilting can help recover high bidding cost of mines bagged by his ‘friends’.punjab Updated: Jun 05, 2017 17:51 IST
Embroiled in a row over his former employees bagging sand mining contracts through high bids running into crores of rupees, minister Rana Gurjit Singh’s own irrigation department is showing rather keen interest in mining in just two months of the new government coming to power. This when silt is deposited on riverbeds after the rains.
In a letter issued by chief engineer, drainage, in first week of May before the 102 mines went for e-auction in Punjab — a copy of which is with HT — the superintendent engineers of Amritsar, Ferozepur, Patiala and Jalandhar circles have been asked to identify new sites for “desilting and use and disposal of sand”.
The Saidpur, Mehadipur and Behloor Khurd mines in Nawanshahr bagged by firms of Rana’s “former” employees Amit Bahadur for Rs 26 crore, Kulvinder Paul for Rs 9 crore and one Ajitpal Singh Gill for Rs 23 crore, respectively, as partners of firms of the ministers close friend Capt JS Randhawa’s family, fall in the Jalandhar circle.
- On the irrigation department’s hurry to identify desilting sites, Rana Gurjit told HT the department has issued the letters so that the sand can be used to strengthen the bandhs.
- Denying that his department will give away contracts for desilting, the minister said: “We will dispose of the extra sand through a mechanism involving deputy commissioners.”
‘On priority basis’
Interestingly, the letter adds that the identification of new sites should be done on a “priority basis” and they should coordinate with the mining department to get permits for the new sites as well as the 46 sites that have been identified by the department. The letter adds that permits for 17 sites have already been applied for.
While it cites that “sand recovered from desilting will be used for strengthening bandhs on rivers”, it goes on to add that “excess sand and river bed material will be disposed of after taking permit from the mining department”. The mining department is part of the industries department, which is under chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh.
Some old contractors also alleged that the irrigation department is “harassing” them by issuing letters saying that mining “is disturbing the flow of the river”. A letter, a copy of which is with HT, has asked a contractor in Gurdaspur to stop mining.
Sabotage to create monopoly?
Even sources in mining department are smelling a “sabotage” in the highest bidder of the two-day auction, one Roshan Singh, defaulting to pay for all three mines after making exaggerated bids in Ludhiana neighbouring Nawanshahr.
Roshan made the highest bid of Rs 50 crore for the Rajapur mine against starting bid of Rs 31 lakh. He bid Rs 40 crore for the Dupana mine near Saidpur mine bagged by Bahadur, for which the starting bid was a modest Rs 12 lakh! He also defaulted on a third mine, Sikanderpur, for which he was the highest bidder at Rs 5.6 crore.
The high bids made by Randhawa’s firms, sources in the irrigation department said, was to create a monopoly on mining sites in the lucrative Sutlej river belt in Nawanshahr.
“The high bids could be recovered through illegal mining, forming a cartel in the area and through desilting,” they added.
Former irrigation minister Sharanjit Dhillon says there is no limit to how much silt is deposited in rivers during rains. “It just keeps coming. And desilting contracts are given every year to clean and dispose it of,” he said.
After reports of the minister’s alleged “benami” involvement in sand mine auctions, both Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) allege there is “direct conflict of interest” as Rana is also the irrigation minister. “The irrigation department allots desilting tenders and since Rana’s people have bagged sand mines, there is direct conflict of interest if he continues as the irrigation minister,” former minister and SAD spokesperson Daljit Cheema said.
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Sukhpal Khaira said: “Most mines are in riverbeds and they come under the irrigation department. How can there be no conflict of interest as it is now clear that the minister’s men have bagged sand mines by making bids running into crores of rupees?”