Ruchika M Khanna
Chandigarh, January 17
The cartelisation of the business of mining minor minerals from riverbeds, leading to high prices of sand and gravel, had cost the previous Akali Dal-BJP dispensation a near rout in the 2014 General Election and was one of the reasons for their humiliating defeat in the 2017 Assembly polls.
The Congress had stormed to power on the promise of doing away with the “mining mafia” and bring the rates of sand and gravel down. But the lure of this “gold” is something that the political class seems unable to ignore.
No wonder then that the mining business continues to be controlled by the political class, spread across the political spectrum. The only difference in the mining business that happened was that the shareholding changed hands — those owing allegiance to the party in power gets 70 per cent share of the proceeds, while the “outgoing” political dispensation’s share is reduced to 30 per cent. Also, most of the mining sites are now in control of big mining contractors from outside the state who have formed syndicates as is prevalent in the liquor trade.
Not only has the syndication of the mining business led to monopolistic practices in the sale of these minor minerals, but rampant and excess mining have proved to be detrimental to the ecology. There have been instances of illegal mining from deep earth by using submersible pumps causing erosion of hills in the Nurpur Bedi area.
It is because of dabbling in this business that the Congress government suffered its first major blow within the first year in power — minister Rana Gurjeet Singh was eased out after he was found allegedly involved in getting contracts for mining of sand and gravel in the name of his employees (he secured a Cabinet berth again later).
The then Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, had also reportedly claimed to be in possession of a list of 40 MLAs of his own party allegedly involved in illegal mining. Even after stepping down, the former CM has been threatening to release this list and “expose” his former party colleagues.
His bête noire and PCC chief Navjot Singh Sidhu has also been raising the issues of rampant illegal mining in the state and government efforts to make the sand and gravel cheaper failing to yield results. Recently, principal Opposition party Aam Aadmi Party, too, exposed the rampant illegal mining in the constituency of Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi, and even demanded his resignation on the issue, while accusing him of being in cahoots with the “mining mafia”. In the past four and a half years, attempts have been made twice to cap the prices at which sand and gravel can be sold, but to little avail. All this goes on to prove how rampant the menace is and how difficult it has been to find the political will to break the hold of “mining mafia”.
Cong’s past assurance
The Congress had promised to root out mining mafia and bring down the prices of sand and gravel for common man. Former minister and PCC chief Navjot Sidhu has been pushing for setting up a government corporation to run mining business.
Action taken so far
- Former CM Capt Amarinder Singh ordered crackdown on illegal mining after he realised the extent of the problem while flying over Puadh and Doaba areas
- Punjab Government twice capped the rate of sand, including once a few weeks ago at Rs5.50 per cubic feet
- The government has allowed landowners to extract sand from their own land
Caught on back foot
- Within two months of assuming power, then Irrigation Minister Rana Gurjeet Singh was accused of taking mining contracts in the name of his employee
- Then CM Capt Amarinder claimed 40 of his MLAs were involved in illegal mining
- Rates of sand and gravel continue to remain high, much beyond the capped price
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