River de-silting rights at seven locations in Punjab are to be given without floating any tenders after Punjab Advocate General (AG) Atul Nanda overruled his own previous advice that these could not allotted without fresh tenders.
Documents with The Indian Express show that the AG has taken the plea of special conditions, due to Covid emergency and anticipated floods in rivers, and opined that the de-silting contracts could be given to the same contractors who had earlier been given sand mining rights in the same stretches after “private negotiation” by government.
On October 3, 2019, the AG had given his opinion in the same matter saying that awarding the de-silting rights to the same contractors “would not be sustainable without a fresh tender process”. He had also added that Clause 15 of the auction notice dated May 30, 2019 specifically states that rights to de-silting are reserved to the government.
At the time he had argued that the grant of any government works be they for de-silting or otherwise is a state largesse and hence has to be way of an open tender and competitive bidding.
However, in his fresh advice dated April 24, Nanda has now reached different conclusions stating that the matter has been put before him for reconsideration and “certain (new) facts and fresh circumstances have since emerged…” with reference to Covid-19 lockdown.
Nanda has cited the emergent need for expedited de-silting of rivers as the Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB) has warned that the water levels of dams are much higher this year than last year and that excess snowfall in the higher reaches of mountains is also excess this year as compared to last year.
“…. and with the Indian MET department reporting a rainfall of 96-104 per cent this monsoon there is likely to be excessive inflows and excess release from the reservoir,” the fresh advice by Nanda states.
He also cites the Covid-19 lockdown in Punjab since March 2020 and that the de-silting contracts if separately tendered would incur an expenditure of Rs 148 crore at the rate of Rs 59.44 per metric ton for 250 lakh tonne “which huge expenditure would be saved by the present process”.
Further justifying his new advice, the AG says that if the mining contractor is not receiving any additional benefit but rather the quantum of sand/gravel so de-silted by him is being deducted from this total concession quantity and at the same time he is paying full value for such de-silted sand/gravel to the state government as per contract rates then there is no loss to the state government.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Atul Nanda said: “I had given an advice earlier but the new one has been given after some fresh facts have come to light. There is a Supreme Court judgment on the basis of which I have given the advice and all the facts are mentioned in my note. These steps can be taken in an emergency situation and nobody can say what we are facing is not an emergency. I have not said that the government should do this. They came for an advice and I have said this is how this can be done.”
However, rebel AAP MLAs Kanwar Sandhu, Jagdev Singh Kamalu, Pirmal Singh Khalsa and Jagtar Singh Hissowal have questioned the latest opinion of the AG.
Sandhu said that the state was being made to lose money under the garb of flooding and coronavirus.
“I fear that under the garb of the advice tendered by the AG, even areas and sites including Majri Block in Kharar, which were closed for mining will be opened up.
This will open floodgates and there will be a free for all, resulting in environmental disaster,” Sandhu said.
The Kharar MLA pointed out that the auctioned mining sites in five districts, including Mohali, Patiala, Amritsar, TarnTaran and Kapurthala had not been included in the permission granted for the next one month on the plea that Environmental Clearance (EC) had not come in, even though many of them are operating illegally.
“The six quarries in Mohali District are to fetch nearly Rs 32 crore and the 26 sites in Amritsar, Kapurthala and Tarn Taran are to fetch Rs 34 Crore annually. As per the new policy for one month, 5.50 lakh Metric Tonne of quantity can be extracted against which the government will get a total of about Rs 4.86 Crore only. Against this measly revenue, the monthly loss to the state government would be to the tune of Rs 15 crore,” he said.
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