Ruchika M Khanna
Chandigarh, January 17
The cartelization of minor mineral mining activity in riverbeds, leading to high sand and gravel prices, cost the previous dispensation Akali Dal-BJP a near rout in the 2014 general election and was one of the reasons for their humiliating defeat in the 2017 Assembly Polls.
Congress had stormed into power on a promise to root out the “mining mafia” and drive down sand and gravel rates. But the allure of this “gold” is something the political class seems unable to ignore.
It is therefore not surprising that the mining sector continues to be controlled by the political class, distributed across the entire political spectrum. The only difference in the mining sector that has occurred is that the shareholding has changed hands – those who owe allegiance to the ruling party receive 70% of the profits, while the share of “outgoing” political dispensation is reduced to 30%. In addition, most mining sites are now under the control of large out-of-state mining contractors who have formed unions, as is the case in the alcohol trade.
Not only has the syndication of mining activity led to monopolistic practices in the sale of these minor minerals, but rampant and excess mining has proven to be detrimental to the ecology. There have been instances of illegal deep earth mining using submersible pumps causing erosion of the hills in the Nurpur Bedi region.
It was because of his involvement in the affair that the Congress government suffered its first blow in the first year in office – Minister Rana Gurjeet Singh was released after being found implicated in obtaining contracts of sand and gravel extraction on behalf of his employees (he again obtained a place in the Cabinet later).
The then Chief Minister, Captain Amarinder Singh, also reportedly claimed to be in possession of a list of 40 MPs from his own party allegedly involved in illegal mining. Even after his resignation, the former CM threatened to publish this list and “expose” his former party colleagues.
His pet peeve and CCP leader, Navjot Singh Sidhu, has also raised the issues of rampant illegal mining in state and government efforts to make sand and gravel cheaper, without delivering results. Recently, the main opposition Aam Aadmi party also denounced the illegal mining taking place in Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi’s constituency, and even demanded his resignation over the issue, while accusing him of to be 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 no avail. All of this proves how endemic the threat is and how difficult it has been to find the political will to break the grip of the “mining mafia”.
Cong’s Past Assurance
Congress had promised to eradicate the mining mafia and lower the prices of sand and gravel for the common man. Former minister and CCP leader Navjot Sidhu pushed for the creation of a state-owned company to manage mining activities.
Measures taken so far
- Former CM Capt Amarinder Singh ordered a crackdown on illegal mining after realizing the extent of the problem while flying over Puadh and Doaba areas
- The Punjab government has twice capped the rate of sand, including once a few weeks ago at 5.50 rupees per cubic foot
- The government allowed landowners to extract the sand from their own land
Taken on the wrong foot
- Within two months of taking office, then-Irrigation Minister Rana Gurjeet Singh was accused of accepting mining contracts on behalf of his employee.
- Then CM Capt Amarinder claimed that 40 of his deputies were involved in illegal mining
- Sand and gravel prices remain high, well above price cap