Punjab’s Mining Minister Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria is finally set to have his way with the government deciding to auction seven clusters of mines instead of separate mines under its new policy. The new policy is likely to be taken to the meeting of Cabinet on Wednesday. If the Cabinet, comprising Punjab Local Bodies Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, who had suggested a different policy, gives its nod, the government would be auctioning seven clusters of river beds divided in 13 mining districts of the state.
Sarkaria and state government officials were locked in a battle over division of clusters. While the officials, including the chief secretary Karan Avtar Singh and former administrative secretary of mining, Jaspal Singh, were unanimous in their opinion that the state should have at least 13 clusters, Sarkaria had wanted only five. The differences resulted in the delay of rolling out the policy as well as the transfer of Jaspal Singh to another department.
Sources said though the government could not fix prices of the commodity at the pit head, the new policy would ensure that each tractor trolley did not cost the end consumer more than Rs 1700 to 1800. The government has set a target of Rs 350 crore for the state exchequer.
“We cannot fix the price at the pit head. But after talking to miners, we have reached a conclusion that sand prices skyrocket because of the transport cost. Hence, we have worked out a system to ensure several checks and balances so that the common man does not have to pay through his nose,” said an official.
Also, the policy claims that with the decision on putting clusters on auction, any chances of illegal mining would be curtailed as the contractor, who would be given the entire span of river in a cluster would not allow illegal mining to take place.
The new policy has fixed eligibility criterion for the prospective bidders. It requires them to have a set turn over and also availability of machines so that the sand could be scooped up at a fast pace to fill the gap between demand and supply.
Cabinet Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, however, had suggested the state to follow Telangana model of setting up a corporation to sell sand. He had claimed that the government could make Rs 2,000 crore by that model. Sarkaria, who is considered a close aide of Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, had rejected Sidhu’s policy.
The government is already late in rolling out its policy as the construction season has already started after the monsoon but the mining business is at a standstill.
An official said the mining would start only in December after the government auctioning the mines and the contractors getting environment clearance.
There are concerns that huge areas as clusters would push the small contractors out as in the progressive bidding the highest bidder wouldget the contract of a cluster.