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Constructing a political narrative with sand, over its illegal mining and mafia

🔴 Before 2005, sand was a commodity that came very cheap. But with the boom in real estate business, and several road projects coming to the state, the demand for sand rose manifold catching the attention of both politicians and the mafia.

Written by Kanchan Vasdev | Chandigarh |
January 19, 2022 12:47:50 am
Punjab, Punjab latest news, Punjab sand mining, Punjab illegal sand mining, Charanjit Singh Channi, Sukhbir Badal, Raghav Chadha, Congress, AAP, SAD, Punjab polls 2022, Punjab elections, indian expressAkali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal had in July last year alleged that illegal sand mining was being carried out at Mukerian in Hoshiarpur district. (File)

WITH an estimated demand of 2 crore tonnes of sand in Punjab every year, and the end consumers getting a tractor-trolley at sky-high prices, thanks to an alleged mafia controlling the illegal business to pocket crores, the construction essential is a huge political issue in the poll-bound Punjab.

Before 2005, sand was a commodity that came very cheap. But with the boom in real estate business, and several road projects coming to the state, the demand for sand rose manifold catching the attention of both politicians and the mafia.

It was in 2007 that the then SAD-BJP government started auctioning the mines for the first time. Since then, sand is an issue confronting every government in the state.

While Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi has already tried to snatch the issue from the opposition parties by slashing the prices of sand from Rs 9 per cubic feet to Rs 5.5 at the pit-head, state Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu has been claiming that it is still being sold at prices higher than that announced by the government.

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Sidhu has promised a plan to not only reduce the price of sand but also make several thousand crores for the state exchequer by regulating it by way of his Punjab Model. On the other hand, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has stated that if his party is voted to power, it would put an end to the illegal mining, make Rs 20,000 crore for the state every year and fund the welfare schemes in the state, including the Rs 1,000-monthly cash transfer to women.

Channi has also been saying that he wanted to make sand free of cost but he could not do so as the previous government had allotted contracts of mines for three years. He has indicated that once the contracts expire, he may give it free of cost.

Sidhu, in his Punjab Model has been saying that the sand business was being run by the mafia and benefitting a few powerful people in the system. He said there are about 102 mining sites across 14 districts of Punjab with an estimated demand of sand of 2.4-3 crore tonnes annually. This could be hugely capitalised for revenue generation and employment in the benefit of the state and its people directly.

The Sand Mining Policy if implemented in a systemic fashion has the potential of generating revenue upto Rs 2000-3000 crore in the next 5 years with a potential of creating 5,000 direct jobs and 15,000-20,000 indirect jobs in the sector.

A ground reality check, however, has revealed that the contractors were not able to provide sand at Rs 5.5 per cubic foot yet as they said they had given the money to the state government for the contract and it was not possible for them to slash the prices. A contractor in Gurdaspur, however, said that he was selling sand for Rs 5.5 per cubic foot only but the prices of transport were high.

“For instance, if I send 25-tonne truck from Pathankot to Bathinda, it will cost Rs 50,000. Rs 30,000 is the cost of transport. Where are the contractors to be blamed?”he asked adding that prices of fine sand — scooped from the river bed — and coarse sand — produced after washing the crushing of gravel — were different. “This is obvious. When there is labour involved then the coarse sand would be more expensive.”

The alleged political-sand mafia nexus figures in the political narrative of the state. AAP co-incharge Raghav Chadha had raided the constituency of CM, Chamkaur Sahib, last month and stated that illegal mining was rampant in the area. He had stated that mafia was active in the segment which was incidentally the area of the CM. A day later, Kejriwal had called Channi a “thief” who was engaged in illegal sand mining. Before this, former chief minister Amarinder Singh had created a stir in political circles by saying it publicly that he had a list of Congress legislators engaged in illegal sand mining. The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) had taken a dig on the Congress and hit out at Amarinder for not taking action on such MLAs.

SAD also faces allegations on sand mining account as it had been allotting mines on reverser bidding and earning only upto Rs 30 crore for state exchequer every year. Amarinder’s government changed the system to progressive bidding and the state has been earning about Rs 300 crore every year.

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