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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Explained: In Punjab’s new mining policy, a big gain for farmers, and a big loss

Several farmers were already into illegal sand mining in their fields and this new policy now allows all farmers to extract up to 3 -feet earth from their fields without any environment clearance certificate.

Written by Anju Agnihotri | Jalandhar |
Updated: January 2, 2022 10:10:45 am
File photo of a sand mining site in Punjab's Nawanshahar district. (Express photo by Jasbir Malhi)

The Punjab government had recently come up with the new sand and gravel mining policy 2021, which states that landowners can dispose of ordinary earth extracted or removed during the leveling of their Agricultural fields up to 3-feet. Even the government advertisement states that landowners are permitted to extract up to 3-feet sand.

Several farmers were already into illegal sand mining in their fields and this new policy now allows all farmers to extract up to 3 -feet earth from their fields without any environment clearance certificate. How farmers unknowingly will cause irreparable damage to their soil quality and thus its productivity implying major soil issue in the state by adopting this practice, the Indian Express explains:

Are farmers opting for land excavation after the new policy?

Several sand dealers revealed that both individual farmers and panchayats, which own large village chunks of common land, are very much interested in getting minined their fields up to 3 feet and they are contacting them to bargain the rates. It is a lucrative business and they are getting a good amount.

“If they are removing even a single cubic feet of earth from one acre, they would get Rs 3 to 3.5 lakh and by removing up to 3-cubic feet they would earn Rs 9 to 11 lakh from a single acres as we are paying them Rs 8 to 9 per cubic feet sand,” said a dealer in Jalandhar, adding that several farmers have asked him to remove sand from their fields after the harvesting of wheat.

“Also I extracted sand from 5-acre just after paddy harvesting in a village in Jalandhar Cantt and paid Rs 50 lakh to the farmer and the panchayat of the same village also wanted to get around 10 acres of common land mined in the coming summer season”.

What will happen to soil if excavation even up to 1-feet is done in agricultural fields?

According to soil experts, the top layer of the soil is the best quality soil that contains all the important nutrients. Dr O P Chaudhary, principal soil chemist and Head of the Department of the Soil Science at Punjab Agriculture University (PAU), Ludhiana, said that once this upper layer or soil head, which is the most fertile, is mined, this would mean destroying the most fertile layer and this destruction is “forever”, and irreparable.

It will take hundreds or even thousands of years to form it again. He said that all the important nutrients of the soil are available up to 60 cm till the root zone layer of the crops, and the first 6 inches are the most important one. “The top 3-feet excavation means to kill the best soil completely,” he added.

“This is a short term gain and farmers should not do it as it will lead to water logging in the low lying fields. And if the surrounding areas of such fields are at a higher level, then these fields would turn turn a drain for the surrounding areas,” said Dr RK Gupta, principal soil chemist, Department of Soil Sciences, PAU, adding that a brick or a house can be made from the unproductive soil but crops cannot be grown in non fertile soil. He added that this is also causing a huge damage to our environment.

Dr Gupta added, “Several farmers come to us after mining their fields upto 3-4 feet and ask us to provide some solution as the crops yield is not proper after the digging but they come when the damage has already occurred.”

Agriculture officer Pathankot Dr Amrik Singh said that they have compared soil samples from the fields where farmers have removed soil up to 2-3 feet recently and samples of the same soil around 10 years or 15 years ago and found that there was very low organic matter, which improves the soil fertility, in all the three types of fields despite farmers putting too much fertilizers to make it fertile.

Experts said that, in fact, when the government acquires any farm land for development projects such as construction of roads, they (government) should remove the upper layer of the soil first and put them on the agricultural fields instead of burying the same under metalled road.

Can farmers save the upper layer if they still want to extract sand from their fields?

Experts said that in the first place, farm land should not be destroyed in this way. However, if they want to opt for mining, they should get the upper layer collected till up to six inches to one feet on one side of the field and after getting that minined, it should be spread on the field again to retain the best quality sand.

Dr Gupta added that this was, however, tedious and farmers hardly save the upper soil layer before mining on their fields. “As there are several who first remove the earth and when they do not find it fit for growing crops then they keep their land for mining with the feeling that at least the land belongs to them and also they are earning from it by selling the sand,” he said.

This practice is quite common in Hoshiarpur’s Mukerian subdivision where farmers are giving their fields to the sand mafia for digging in exchange of money. The sand mafia is earning much more from what they are paying to the farmers from their fields. One deep ditches from 5-10 feet to 60-70 feet deep and 500-700 feet wide ditches right in the middle of the farm lands in Mukerian. Now no farming is taking place on this land.

What was the earlier law about mining of fields?

Earlier, farmers were required to take environment clearance for mining their fields and as per norms, no agricultural land can be excavated upto 3-meters after procuring environment clearance certificate. If this rule was flouted then an FIR was to be registered against the owner of the land, panchayat (if it is panchayati land), forest officer (if the land belongs to the forest department), and Block Development and Panchayat Officer (BDPOs) or any other owner.

Agriculture department officials said that Punjab government’s policy will ruin the state’s soil badly because several farmers see the short term gains and also are not aware that the soil of the upper layer is the most fertile and best one.

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