PUNJAB’S NEW mining policy, under which 7 clusters comprising 13 districts are set to be auctioned for a whopping reserve price of Rs 22 to 76 crore, is being criticised by miners and farmers who claim it is solely aimed at benefiting “the big fish in the trade and cartelisation.”
As per the eligibility criterion set under the policy, it invites the bidders that are registered companies, partnerships, societies including cooperative societies, sole proprietorship, individuals and consortia of up to three such entities. The annual turnover of the bidders should not be less than 50 per cent of the reserve price of the mine.
The seven clusters formed by the government include Ropar as block-1, Nawanshahar, Jalandhar, Barnala, Sangrur and Mansa as block-2, Moga Fazilka, Bathinda, Faridkot as block-3, Hoshiarpur and Gurdaspur as block 5, Kapurthala, Amritsar and Tarn Taran as block 6 and Mohali and Patiala in block 7.
The directorate of mining has already floated tenders for the upcoming e-auction, which according to Mining Minister Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria, will be done on July 1.
Those already engaged in the business say it “outrightly favoured several big contractors” and did not have much for small-time businessmen and farmers.
Adding to the farmer versus govt conflict
The farmers’ grouse with the new sand mining policy is likely to take centrestage as the community is already at loggerheads with the government over a host of issues, and is also looking for alternative avenues to earn their bread and butter. The impending ground water crisis has also added fuel to the fire.
Sarkaria claimed they were “clearly encouraging cartels”, and also farmers, who could contact the department with revenue records of their mine-able land to include it in the ‘khasra’ numbers to be auctioned. Farmers on the other hand said they should be allowed to conduct mining operations themselves instead of the government auctioning their land to a contractor for mining. They said that if farmers are allowed to do their own mining it could help at least 50,000 small farmers, whose earlier cultivable land has turned infertile over the years and is just sand.
Ranmeet Singh Chahal, a farmer from Bramad Rail village in Nawanshahar, questioned the policy. He said that while the Congress government in Punjab was projecting itself to be a farmer-centric government, it was not giving any opportunity to farmers to mine their own land. “Punjab government always issues statements that we are doing everything for the small farmer, but when it comes to mining, it looks the other way. If a farmer is allowed mine his own land he will never damage that land and won’t extract more than the allowed quantity of sand.”
Chahal added that a farmer is the rightful owner to make profits on his land and that he would also ensure that the neighbouring areas are safeguarded. “He will ensure that the ecological balance is maintained since he is a member of that village and it will be his interest that the fertile land is not affected.”
He further said that the Madhya Pradesh government last year permitted land owners to do sand mining in their own land provided they take necessary pre-approvals and pay a fixed royalty to the government.
“First right on the sand in one’s fields is that of the farmer. The government can only auction the land owned by the government. As per the rule, the top three feet is of the farmer. Then why is the government denying them this right? Why does it not realise that it can actually help so many farmers to make profits from their defunct land? They can earn their bread from this and not commit suicide,” said Chahal.
Sarkaria however, said, “We cannot allow farmers do mining on their own. Mining bylaws do not have this provision. Every farmer is entitled to royalty for the first three feet of sand in their fields. Anything below three feet belongs to the government. This is the law of the land.”
He added he was aware that certain contractors were fleecing farmers. “I want to appeal to them to bring this to our notice.”
The policy is only expecting a revenue of Rs 350 crore for the state exchequer. The government is already late in getting its policy rolling as for the last one year, it was challenged in the high court. The court only recently allowed the government to go ahead with it after some tweaking.