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One year of Punjab govt: Sandstorm refuses to die down as ground reality remains in the pits

Illegal mining not only causes loss to the state exchequer but poses serious ecological threat too, because extraction is being carried out from non-designated areas. Such activity can lead to altering of river courses.

punjab Updated: Mar 13, 2018 09:37 IST
Gurpreet Singh Nibber
Gurpreet Singh Nibber
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Punjab,Congress,Captain Amarinder Singh
Fourteen out the state’s 22 districts have sand quarries, and there are reports that local MLAs have the contracts. (HT)

After a stormy campaign and whirlwind win in the assembly polls, the Congress regime in Punjab faced another storm two months on. And it was quite the sandstorm, leading to resignation of Rana Gurjit Singh as minister, though not immediately. Rana’s “former” employees had got sand quarrying contracts, which many saw as Rana deploying proxies to grab a piece of the lucrative pie. He was not alone, it’s alleged; and the storm is far from over despite losing pace in between.

Illegal mining not only causes loss to the state exchequer but poses serious ecological threat too, because extraction is being carried out from non-designated areas. Such activity can lead to altering of river courses.

Reality check
  • Promise: To break oligarchic control, end illegal mining. Reality: From SAD-BJP leaders who took contracts in the previous 10 years, control has gone to Congress leaders, using proxies
  • Promise: Transparent auction. Auctions were held electronically and considered transparent, but government failed to check loopholes of proxy and unrealistic bids

This was underlined recently when the chief minister ordered seizure of heavy machinery after he spotted it being used on the banks of the Sutlej for illegal mining even on a legally auctioned quarry.

After that, in a meeting with him, MLAs and even ministers said mining is not possible without use of heavy machinery, and rules against that must to be changed. A cabinet sub-committee has now been formed to take stock and suggest ways out.

Fourteen out the state’s 22 districts have sand quarries, and there are reports that local MLAs have the contracts.

A red flag could have been raised when a new trend emerged in the auctions held in May — bids were much higher than the total value of sand in a quarry. The question was: Are the contractors banking on possibility of illegal mining around the sites? But the government instead flashed the big numbers as an achievement. And, now, officials of the mining department say it’s difficult to restrict contractors to the allotted size of a quarry.

The Punjab and Haryana high court and the National Green Tribunal has been monitoring the mining, and have taken a tough stand by shutting down some quarries. But the confidence of the mafia can be judged from the fact that in November last, sand mafia attacked inspection officials in a quarry near Patiala.

“I fail to understand why mining is being done on quarries that were not auctioned. The government has been making tall claims of checking illegal mining, but the ground situation is totally contrary,” said BJP leader Madan Mohan Mittal, former minister for the industry department that oversees mining.

Secretary-cum-director, mining, Kumar Rahul said, “We are working to make the mining operations smooth. There’s now a cabinet sub-committee, whose report will help us further better the system.”

First Published: Mar 13, 2018 09:17 IST