Ruchika M Khanna
Chandigarh, June 28
The Punjab Vigilance Bureau (VB) has started a “thorough” investigation into the cases of illegal mining during the previous governments, Minister for Mining and Jails Harjot Singh Bains said on the floor of the House today.
Editorial: Punjab Budget
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Participating in a debate on the Budget, Bains mentioned the Vigilance probe after Punjab Congress president and MLA Amrinder Singh Raja Warring challenged the Aam Aadmi Party government to prove it could increase the annual mining revenue to Rs 20,000 crore.
The minister cited what all was “wrong” with the mining operations run by the previous Congress regime. “In 2007, the mining revenue stood at Rs 13 crore. It rose to Rs 42 crore in 2017 and saw an over three-fold jump to Rs 140 crore in 2021-22. Our estimate is that over the past 20 years, there has been an organised loot of minor minerals to the tune of Rs 40,000 crore. The loss stands at Rs 10,000 crore in the past five years alone,” he said.
Warring said there could have been loot in the past, but the government must corroborate its claims by yielding Rs 20,000 crore revenue. Bains countered Warring asking why the earlier mining contractors who were supposed to pay Rs 625 crore to the government paid only Rs 425 crore. “Despite a loss of Rs 200 crore, why didn’t your government seize their bank guarantees,” he asked.
Congress MLA Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria, Minister for Mining during the previous government, took on Bains saying, “Before rejecting and commenting on the old mining policy, you must increase revenue.” Bains said after the AAP regime took charge, 18 mining department officers had been suspended. “The Congress government gave away land under the PLPA Act for mining. Rules were tweaked to aid illegal miners. A time-bound inquiry has been ordered to probe all such illegalities,” he said.
The minister said the Congress government’s records showed that only 40,000 MT of sand was mined legally across the state in five years. “Since we came to power, 40,000 MT has been mined in Pathankot alone. Weigh bridges at mining sites were faulty. All this will be brought out in the VB probe,” he said.
Leader of Opposition Partap Singh Bajwa interrupted Bains saying the ruling party was free to conduct any probe, but they (Opposition) should be allowed to rebut the charges in the House. “Don’t heckle our MLAs,” he said.
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