With the district police and the mining department tightening the noose on illegal quarrying of sand against the backdrop of the Punjab government’s failure to auction designated mining sites, the local market is facing a severe shortage of sand these days.
While construction work has been hit badly by the non-availability of sand, those who manage to hoodwink the mining staff jack up prices of the illegally extracted sand to the extent that it becomes out of reach of the common man.
After a recent HT expose on the involvement of certain contractors in illegal sand mining business under the alleged political patronage in the district, the industries department and the local police put a blanket ban on mining.
Since permit to carry out quarrying at notified mining sites had already expired, closure of illegal dumps created a huge gap in demand and supply.
Permission for mining at all 18 sites at Deowal, Mukhliana, Dihana, Bohan, Hargarh, Harta, Shergarh, Nasrala, Dadiala Kalan, Saidon Patti, Dagana Kalan, Kaile, Patti, Khalwana, Bassi Ghulam Hussain, Fatehgarh Niara, Hardokhanpur and Bahadurpur villages expired in the past few months.
Even the government quarry in Dagana Khurd which was started in November last year has been closed down for reasons best known to the authorities concerned. The Industries department had allotted the quarry to the Punjab State Industrial Export Corporation (PSIEC) at a fixed royalty to supply sand at fixed rate of Rs 800 per cubic feet but the arrangement ended in a fiasco. Industries minister Madan Mohan Mittal had inaugurated the quarry. Mittal could not be contacted despite several calls.
“The government is seized off the matter. Auction of expired sand quarries is to be conducted at the directorate level. We do not have any role in this,” said general manager (industries) and mining officer Tehal Singh Sekhon.
Social Democratic Party president Jai Gopal Dhiman alleged that the government deliberately delayed the official auction of quarries in order to help the unauthorized operators. “If the government can timely auction liquor vends then why not sand mines”, he questioned. “It is an open secret that illegal sand and gravel business is monopolised by the ruling party in the state. Claims of supplying cheap construction material to the people is a farce,” he said.
“Police cases are being registered against small farmers and unemployed villagers who earn their livelihood from sand retailing. No big fish is ever caught,” alleged Socialist Party leader Balwant Singh Khera.
“The government should open more sand quarries and ensure that consumers get regular supply of sand and aggravate at control rate all the year round”, said Malkit Singh, a local resident.