Two months after Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh ordered registration of cases against contractors mining sand with use of machines in Nawanshahar, the state government is preparing to allow use of machines for scooping sand from river beds.
Amarinder had, on March 6, flown in the government chopper over Sutlej river in Jalandhar and Nawanshahar district. While ariborne, he had witnessed heavy machines like Poclains and JCBs engaged in mining the river bed. In no time, the Chief Minister had ordered stopping of mechanised mining calling it “illegal”.
The Deputy Commissioner of Nawanshahar had ordered registration of cases of illegal mining against seven contractors of the district. As many as 21 Poclain machines, 5 JCBs along with 30 Tippers (Trucks) and a tractor trolley were confiscated the same day.
Two months down the line, the government is preparing to allow contractors to use JCBs for the purpose. Amarinder himself told the media a few days ago that the mining guidelines were “draconian” as these did not allow the mining with machines. Punjab was already facing acute shortage of labour and engaging labourers for mining was not possible to handle huge operations.
Recently sworn in Minister of Mining Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria said following feedback from the contractors, they had decided to relax the ruled so that mining could be mechanised. “We are in the process. We will not allow Poclain machines as they dig very deep. Digging with them could adversely impact the rivers. Hence, we will allow JCBs for the purpose.”
Sources said as per the recent guidelines of Union Ministry of Environment, the State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority could allow the use of digging machines. “The guidelines, laid out in 2016-17, could be interpreted in such a way that the SEIAA could allow use of machinery.”
They said as most of the mines in Punjab were large in area, measuring five hectares and above, there was no option but to use machines for the digging work. Otherwise the price of commodity would spiral due to engaging of expensive labour.
A functionary of the government said while several states were still to switch over to mechanised mode of digging, Telangana, from which Punjab was taking a cue was engaging in mechanised operations. He said there would still be several mines, comparatively smaller in size, where only manual digging would be allowed.
If any contractor would be found violating he could lose his mining contract. If a contractor is found engaged in illegal activity of committing theft of sand from government land, he is liable to be punished under Section 379 of IPC as well as an offence punishable under Section 21 of the Mines and Minerals Act.