The Punjab cabinet on Wednesday approved the new sand and gravel policy that would enable the government to grant contracts by forming mining clusters instead of the earlier process of auctioning of individual mines.Under the new policy, villages along rivers will be divided in clusters which will be auctioned through progressive bidding, under which the mine goes to the highest bidder.The move, a government spokesperson claimed, will substantially increase the royalties to the state exchequer, help get consumers adequate supply of sand and gravel at fair price besides curbing illegal mining.Only registered companies, partnerships and societies, including cooperative societies, sole proprietorships and individuals and consortia of up to three such entities would be eligible for bidding, subject to fulfillment of certain conditions.Chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh chaired the meeting while local bodies minister Navjot Sidhu, who had pushed for a mining policy based on the Telangana pattern, gave it a miss. He is said to be out of the state on a religious visit.The new policy will come into effect two months after the cabinet approval to the amendment to the Punjab Minor Mineral Rules, 2013, said the spokesperson. It has also been decided that the department of mining will launch an online sand portal for the sale of sand to consumers — small or medium.All transactions/payments will be captured by a real-time online monitoring system. The sale of sand will be controlled by electronic documentation linked to a central system, and the daily progress report would be uploaded on the portal.In the financial year 2017-18, four progressive e-auctions bid of minor mines were held. Due to speculative bidding in these auctions, it resulted in a significant number of mines being auctioned at high prices. However, many of the contractors failed to operationalise these mines, which led to dearth of supply of sand and gravel, leading to surge in their market prices.The salient features of the policy are provision of rights of concession quantity of sand and gravel in identified mining blocks would be put for bidding through a transparent e-auction process.The spokesperson said to check overpricing of sand and gravel, a cap has been put on their sale price. Both sand and gravel shall not be sold by the concessionaire at the mining site at more than ₹9 per cubic feet, which includes cost of loading on the vehicle.The maximum rates linked to distance that can be charged per cubic feet for transportation of sand and gravel will be notified. The maximum rate of sand and gravel chargeable from the end-customer will not exceed the sum of above said two rates.Online orders could be booked through divisional mining office or sub-divisional mining office, and mobile app for booking orders will be launched soon.