Laughter, like music, has charms to soothe frayed tempers, even in the midst of a tense legislative debate.
Although the monsoon session of the Maharashtra legislature, which ended on July 31, was mostly a stormy affair with the ruling and Opposition benches trading blows, it had its own share of lighter moments.
One such moment came on the final day when battle lines had been firmly drawn between the two sides, which helped calm the atmosphere.
Responding to a query on the increasing clout of sand mafia in the temple town of Pandharpur, Revenue Minister Eknath Khadse informed the Assembly that authorities had ‘arrested’ 56 donkeys found transporting illegally mined river sand to secret collection points in one such case last month.
The minister had both the ruling and Opposition legislators in splits when he quipped that the animals had been taken into custody since their owner was at large.
“Further investigations are on,” he said.
A former minister and NCP legislator joined in urging the government to show mercy on the animals. “They wouldn’t be able to tell gold from sand. Would they?” he asked.
Khadse couldn’t resist a reply. “They have been placed in an animal shelter. Their medical check is carried out on a daily basis. We are taking good care of them,” he replied, adding that the owner would soon be traced.
The final day of the session saw the Opposition giving it their all to corner the BJP government over corruption allegations and poor law and order in the state. The ruling side retaliated in kind mounting a counter offensive against the Opposition. Khadse’s remark played its part by defusing some tension.
On a serious note, the government admitted to concerns from the rising advent of sand mafia. In Pandharpur alone, illegal mining of river sand has seen a spurt since April this year. Between April and June, the government had intercepted 31 vehicles for transporting mined river sand illegally in Pandharpur alone, Khadse informed, adding that over Rs 30 lakh had been collected in fines from them.
To arrest the worrying trend, the government has introduced a law classifying illegal sand mining and smuggling as offences punishable under the stringent Maharashtra Prevention of Dangerous Activities Act, which permits enforcing agencies to carry out preventive detention of persons involved in such activities.
But the impact of this is yet to be felt. Congress’s Bharat Bhalke had raised a calling attention motion on rising sand mining incidents in Pandharpur.