Caught in ‘sandstorm’: Friends of Punjab Congress MLAs bagged mines on single bids
Investigations by HT reveal that out of 89 mines auctioned, 17 went to the first and only bidder. And call it mere coincidence that a majority have a Congress link. Balaji Minerals, a firm from Chattisgarh, friends of Congress MLA from Faridkot, Kushaldeep Dhillon, have bagged five mines out of 89 that got bidders. And surprisingly, it faced no competition on three bids.punjab Updated: Jun 05, 2017 08:55 IST
It is not just friends and “former” employees of Punjab’s power and irrigation minister Rana Gurjit Singh who have bagged sand mines in recent two-day auction through aggressive bidding. Friends and family members of some Congress MLAs had lady luck smiling on them all the way as they bagged the sand mines on single bids.
Investigations by HT reveal that out of 89 mines auctioned, 17 went to the first and only bidder. And call it mere coincidence that a majority have a Congress link. Balaji Minerals, a firm from Chattisgarh, friends of Congress MLA from Faridkot, Kushaldeep Dhillon, have bagged five mines out of 89 that got bidders. And surprisingly, it faced no competition on three bids.
The starting bid for Hujra mine in Ludhiana was Rs 8.3 crore, so was the highest bid. The Gorsian Khan Mohammad mine of Ludhiana too went to Balaji at the single bid of Rs 9.2 crore. So did a third — Akuwal for Rs 7.7 crore. Balaji has bagged one more mine, Sundra in SAS Nagar, through Rs 8.6-crore bid aginst starting bid of Rs 45 lakh.
But it has defaulted in payment of 50% amount for Baggian, in Ludhiana, for which it made Rs 26 crore, against starting bid of Rs 2.3 crore. The mining department has issued to it the acceptance letter for the four mines besides a letter blacklisting it for Baggian.
The MLA’s friends — the Mongas — who hail from Kotkapura, neighbouring his constituency Faridkot, too proved lucky in not just bagging four mines out of six that went under the hammer in the district, but bagging them all on single bids and all for a just a few lakhs. Mandeep Singh Monga bagged Ariawala mine on a single bid of Rs 28.5 lakh, Desa Singh Monga got the Chak Bodla mine for a single bid of Rs 40 lakh and Deepak Singh Moga bagged the Rupain Wala mine for a single bid of Rs 30 lakh. Mandeep bagged another mine, Ghugiana, for single and lowest bid among all 89 mines that were auctioned for Rs 19.6 lakh.
While Dhillon is candid in admitting they are friends, he says he does not know about their bids. “The Mongas are not from my constituency. I know of them through their relatives in Faridkot. As for Balaji, I have met them through a common friend. Just knowing someone does not mean anything,” he said.
In case of Congress MLAs Sukhpal Bhullar from Khem Karan and Amrik Dhillon of Samrala, whose families have joint stakes in mining, the single bid was bagged by Manpreet Singh, friend of Bhullar’s brother-in-law, Mohanpal. Amrik’s son Kamaljit had also bagged liquor contracts in Congress government’s auctions in March. Manpreet got lucky at Boont in Ludhiana by bagging the mine at the starting bid of Rs 9.13 crore. But Bhullar says he does not know anything about it and the mines went for auction through open bidding.
Some friends of Guru Har Sahai MLA Rana Gurmeet Sodhi too are part of the bidding but the MLA denied he had helped anyone bag mines.
Power firms bid for sand
Two power companies, Apesh Power and Albina Power, too have won single bids for two mines in Gurdaspur district — Guniya for Rs 1.7 crore and Gurchak for Rs 2.5 crore. Both operate from the same office address at New Delhi. So does Hecate Power, which has bagged a mine, Kutbewal, at jump of just Rs 1 lakh from the starting bid in Ludhiana. All three belong to one Rajiv Rattan.
Walia Constructions, which has bagged the Bukhari Khurd mine of Ludhiana, for the starting bid of Rs 1.97 crore is linked to an MLA from neighbouring Nawanshahr district. Two other firms have bagged mines on starting bids in Jalandhar. Lamber & Co has won the contract for the Baupur mine and Taneja & Co for the Yusufpur mine.
The mining department’s criterion of dividing bidders into two categories — those who paid up and those who defaulted — too is going to raise questions of “political patronage”.
One Satwinder Singh Mavi, who too is reportedly close to a Congress MLA, has bagged a mine at Pathankot (Taharpur) for Rs 9.5 crore while defaulting in payment for another mine, Gajju Jagir, in the district for which he had made the highest bid of Rs 12 crore against starting bid of Rs 9.7 lakh.
On how political patronage could create single bids, a rival bidder who did not win a contract, said the amount of earnest money to be deposited worked in favour of those who won single bids. “They knew nobody will pay high earnest money for a mine with reserved price in crores of rupees. So mines with low initial deposit saw multiple and aggressive bids running into crores of rupees. So they opted to pay more to be sure of winning,” he said.
Another bidder alleged that going by the tonnage, area, and available material, the earnest money for some mines was unjustified — it was either too high or low. “Every technology can be manipulated and e-auction is not foolproof either,” he said.
‘Not our business to know bidders’
But the mining department says it is not their business to know who is bidding and how they won single bids. “We have to ensure a transparent system. It is an open bid and anyone can apply. As for same company defaulting at one site and paying for another, we have issued them notice of blacklisting for the site where they have defaulted,” an official said. Punjab mining director Amit Dakha said they are going to bring multiple checks to stabilise the system.