A day after the Punjab and Haryana High Court stayed sand mining auction, leaving Punjab government red-faced, it has come to light that the officials of its department of mines did not file a reply in the court on time. The failure of the department to file a reply to the notice of motion led the HC to stay the auction scheduled for December 27. The case will now come up for hearing on January 16, delaying the auction by at least a month.
Even if the court vacates the stay on January 16, the government will require time to conduct the online auction.
Minister of Mines Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria told The Indian Express that the notice of the court was put up for action very late. “We are trying to find out who caused this delay. We will fix responsibility and take action,” he said.
A government functionary, however, said that the notice of motion given to the state by the HC on December 6 was forwarded to the department last Friday. The case came up for hearing on Wednesday. The department still had two working days to prepare a reply, but it was not done. It is learnt that the officials of the department have got a rap from the chief secretary for the delay.
Sarkaria said the government would request the HC during the next hearing to allow the argument so that the auction could take place as soon as possible. “We will request the HC to allow the argument. Then we will give our point,” he said, adding that the government would demarcate the seven clusters that would be put on auction as per the court orders.
The delay in auctioning the mines is set to skyrocket the prices of the sand. Sarkaria said only 27 mines auctioned under progressive bidding are functional in the state. “There were a total of 57 mines that were successful under progressive bidding policy last year. But only 27 are functional now as the rest have not deposited their remaining instalments. We are inviting the contractors to pay us the remaining amount and run the mines so that the shortage of sand can be addressed,” he said, adding under the new policy, in which the clusters were to be auctioned, they had promised a fixed price at the mine itself.
One tractor-trolley sand will be made available for Rs 900. He admitted that the prices of sand were currently high at Rs 3,500 to 4,000 per tractor trolley. The government has already taken long for formulating the new policy. The mines should have been auctioned by September before monsoon got over.
The Congress government had come to power on the promise of regulating the sand trade and the prices of the commodity, besides raising the state revenue.