As Punjab ministers wrangle over new policy, cancelled mines flout SC’s order
Violation: On May 11, apex court had ordered to immediately close down mines allotted by previous SAD-BJP regime through reverse bidding process; the Captain government had opted for progressive bidding to earn huge revenue.punjab Updated: May 18, 2018 15:23 IST
At a time when ministers in the cabinet sub-committee to draft Punjab’s new mining policy have locked their horns over it, the Supreme Court’s May 11 order to immediately close down mines allotted by the previous SAD-BJP regime through the reverse bidding process is being flouted with impunity.
The Captain government had opted for progressive bidding process hoping to earn huge revenue. Later, through a cabinet decision, it had given an option to contractors to either change their contracts to progressive bidding or surrender them. The Punjab and Haryana high court had upheld the state’s decision following which the contractors had moved the Supreme Court.
The apex court too had upheld the state’s move and ordered immediate stopping of all mining activity in these quarries. It had directed the contractors to remove their machinery from the sites by May 18 and government to compensate them by May 25. Of the 39 quarries so cancelled, a majority are gravel mines.
The Hajipur Stone Crushers Union claims mining of gravel is still taking place at these mines in Pathankot and Hoshiarpur and “goonda tax” is still being collected. Most of Punjab’s gravel comes from the Hajipur belt in Hoshiarpur.
‘All gravel mines affected by SC order’
“All gravel mines in Punjab have been affected by the SC’s order as the Captain government had not auctioned new gravel mines. The mafia is collecting Rs 25,000 per day as goonda tax on trucks carrying gravel. It adds up to Rs 7.5 lakh a month. It is the mafia which is still making money that should be going to the government’s coffers,” Gurnam Singh, union’s vice-president, said.
The newly-created mining department seems aware of the violation of SC orders but argues that sudden closure of these mines could squeeze the supply of gravel and jack up prices. “The prices have already jumped by Rs 1,000 per 100 cubic feet of gravel and are hovering around Rs 3,500 per 100 cubic feet. We will need time to compensate contractors and re-auction the mines,” a senior department official said, requesting anonymity.
Despite repeated phone calls and text messages by HT, mining minister Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria did not respond.
No consensus among ministers
The draft policy prepared by the cabinet sub-committee headed by local government minister Navjot Singh Sidhu has proposed complete state control over mining and sale of sand by setting up a state-run mineral development corporation. The proposal has not found favour with rural and urban development minister Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, who is also a part of the panel. Sarkaria too is opposed to it.
For gravel, the draft policy has suggested the Himachal model which charges a royalty on stone crushers on the basis on electricity consumed by them. Chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh announced to frame a new mining policy after facing huge embarrassment over the progressive bidding auctions. Though they fetched exorbitant bids, several bidders backed out or failed to pay their installments and as a result, the government’s projections to rake in Rs 1,000 crore went awry.
The ruling party leaders also got embroiled in a controversy of “benami” bids. The government is also facing heat over rampant illegal mining due to the “politician-mafia” nexus despite the CM ordering a crackdown more than once.
On May 11, apex court had ordered to immediately close down mines allotted by previous SAD-BJP regime through reverse bidding process
First Published: May 17, 2018 14:08 IST