As prices of sand soar, Punjab government plans to take over mining - Hindustan Times

As prices of sand soar, Punjab government plans to take over mining

ByVishal Rambani/Gurpreet Nibber, Rupnagar
Apr 19, 2022 01:12 AM IST

The move by the Punjab governement comes after it terminated the contracts of two sand mining clusters and suspended operations of two others in the state in February

/ Chandigarh : Cracking the whip on illegal mining, the Aam Aadmi Party government is planning to take over mining operations in Punjab to check the soaring prices of sand that has jumped to over 40 per cubic-foot, an over three fold rise in its cost that has troubled the construction industry in the state.

As prices of sand soar, Punjab government plans to take over mining
As prices of sand soar, Punjab government plans to take over mining

The government is expected to take over the Ferozepur cluster which includes mines in Moga, Ferozepur, Muktsar, Fazilka, Bathinda and Faridkot districts within this week.

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“As per our plan, we will run a pilot in the cluster by making stockpiles at the excavation sites available for the buyers directly,” said Devinder Singh, chief engineer of the state’s department of water resources.

The government’s move comes after it terminated the contracts of two mining clusters and suspended operations of two others in Punjab in February for failing to pay contract fee to the tune of 90 crores.

Mining minister Harjot Singh Bains said that “the department has terminated the contract of Amritsar and Ferozepur mining clusters and operation of Rupnagar and Mohali clusters have been suspended over non payment of the (fee) instalments.”

“We are reviewing the contracts of suspended clusters, while the other two that has been terminated, our government plan to operate by itself,” Bains said.

With four out of the total seven mining clusters in Punjab becoming non-operational, only three- Hoshiarpur, Ludhiana and Pathankot clusters are now operational in the state.

The Mohali cluster is also under the scanner of the state government. “We will disclose the plan soon about Mohali cluster,” Devinder said. The cluster has excavation points in Mohali, Patiala and Fatehgarh Sahib districts.

Sand mining had became a major issue ahead of the state polls, with all the political parties blaming each other for running illegal mining trade and causing loss to the state exchequer.

The mining department controls sand mines and excavation sites over rivers and their tributaries and distributaries in the state.

“The Congress made big claims that they are getting Rs. 300 crore a year, which is totally farce as this figure was never achieved in any year. I can say with authority that during Congress, 90 percent mining was illegal. Now, there is no illegal Mining, as we have cracked the whip to check illegal mining and asked contractors to deposit money, which is due towards them,” Bains said.

On being asked that this move will lead to shortage of supply and increase in the prices of sand and gravel, Bains said that it was a gimmick of contractors as they were having monopoly over the seven clusters.

“I have asked the officials to depute the junior engineers at mining sites and any one can take sand by paying government fixed prices. The government will provide material to stone crushers to provide cost effective gravel,” the minister said.

He said that the government’s focus is how to provide respite to the people of the state and not to save contractors, who exploited the natural resources in the name of ‘desilting.”

“The issue will be resolved within the next two days,” he added.

Earlier, sand was available for Rs. 14-18 per cubic-feet but after the AAP government took over, there has been an over three fold jump in its prices, which is troubling real estate developers and housebuilders. Normally, a tipper with a 1,000 cubic feet capacity used to cost Rs. 14,000 to 18,000. It is now priced at Rs. 40,000. The officers in the water resources department attributed the increase in sand prices also to increase in transportation charges owing to the increase in diesel prices.

The officers in the mining department clarified that the prices of sand fixed by the previous government to Rs. 5.5 per cubic foot will remain unchanged until a new policy is launched by the state government.

According to Bains, the government will auction all the sites in the state once things are streamlined, and finally a new policy will be launched.

There are a total of 205 sites auctioned for mining in the state and 48 sites for de-siltation. As per data from the water resources department, in the past two years, 2.5 lakh tonnes of sand was sold in the state and 62,100 tonnes in Ferozepur cluster.

Contractors to challenge government’s decision

The contract of Rakesh Chaudhary, who has mining lease rights in Ropar and Mohali, was suspended after he failed to pay Rs. 15 crore fee for Ropar and Rs. 11 crores for the Mohali cluster along with the penalty interest.

Sartaj Singh Sandhu, XEN, Ropar Mining Department, said, “Chaudhary had to deposit Rs. 15 crores for continuation of his lease rights. Overall, he has to pay Rs. 27 crores to the Punjab government. Thus, suspension notice has been sent. He said that police has been informed not to allow any movement of sand and gravel in the Mohali, Patiala, Fatehgarh Sahib and Rupnagar districts.”

However, Chaudhry said that he will challenge the decision of the government to suspend his contract as he paid the money for mining. “There is no mining in the last two months, why should I pay,” he said.

The contractor of the Amritsar cluster, who did not wish to be named, said that he would challenge the government’s decision to terminate his contract in the high court.

Sources said that, “if mining operation is under suspension since February, it is a big question that from where Mohali and Ropar crushers are taking raw material. Their electricity bill shows that they are still Working . It means, the raw material is stolen or the contractor indulged in illegal mining.”

Its is a big question how mining officer is accepting their monthly return if they are not paying state royalty, the officials said.

Minister Bains said that he is going to order an inquiry into this aspect also. ENDS

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