Ignoring Punjab Local Bodies Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu’s suggestion to set up a corporation to sell sand, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Tuesday asked the department to continue with the progressive bidding policy for the current fiscal. Progressive bidding policy is being largely blamed for causing the prices of the commodity to skyrocket. The prices of sand are at an all-time high in Punjab, a fallout of the government’s policy.
Amarinder, while addressing the meeting to finalise the policy, heard out Sidhu’s suggestion and stated that his idea would take time to be realised and the department should go ahead with the progressive bidding policy for the second year in a row.
The Chief Minister’s direction came after the meeting during which Mining Minister Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria and Rural and Urban development Minister Tripat Rajinder Singh Bajwa opposed Sidhu’s suggestion stating that the world was decentralising every trade. They contended that in Punjab also, corporations were not doing well. Hence, setting up of another Corporation should be avoided.
Sarkaria is also learnt to have said at the meeting that they were floating tenders for department’s pilot project on selling sand directly from the river bed in Ludhiana on June 28. He said the outcome of the project could show the way.
Sources said the CM asked the department to explore possibility of setting up the Corporation side by side.
A government statement subsequent to the meeting said, “Since the establishment of a Mining Corporation, on the lines of Telangana as suggested by Navjot Singh Sidhu, may take time, the Chief Minister said the state government would continue to follow the progressive bidding policy, which it had adopted and which had been upheld by the Supreme Court. This would help ensure that the mining process is carried out with transparency and illegal mining is curbed.”
Sidhu, who is learnt to have cancelled his schedule to visit Dhudhike to confer Punjab Gaurav Puraskar to noted Punjabi litterateur Jaswant Kanwal on the eve of his birth centenary on Wednesday, told the meeting about how the government’s corporation could help sell sand at Rs 1,000 per tractor-trolley. He said it would ensure sand at cheaper prices.
Sidhu later told The Indian Express, “It was entirely up to the CM to accept or reject a suggestion. I gave my recommendation. It is the prerogative of the CM. I made sure to participate in the meeting. I cancelled my schedule. But it was not a compulsion for the CM to accept the recommendation.”
Sources in the government said Sidhu’s suggestion was not even on any file as he had submitted an unsigned report. Sidhu was asked by the CM to lead a sub-committee of sand mining and suggest ways and means to ensure the sand was sold at cheaper prices and yet earned revenue for the state. Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal was also a member of the committee. Sidhu had travelled to Telangana to study their policy, which was adjudged as the best mining policy of the country.
The meeting also discussed high prices of sand and the CM directed Sarkaria to initiate immediate steps for desilting of rivers for flood protection and start the process immediately after the monsoons. The de-silted sand could be pumped into the market to ease the pricing pressure, the CM said.
The CM also asked the department to deploy high-end monitoring equipment, including geo-tagging of sites and installation of GPS tracking of trucks, to improve enforcement check unlawful mining.
The CM stressed the importance of cleaning up the system and streamlining the process to further augment the state’s revenue from mining, while ensuring uninterrupted supply of sand and gravel to the consumers at affordable prices.
Sidhu courts another row
Sidhu’s recommendation to Prime Minister for a Padma award for noted Punjabi litterateur Jaswant Kanwal created a controversy as in the normal course, such recommendations are made to the CM, who in turn forwards it to the PM. Sidhu made a recommendation for a Padma award and a postal stamp in honour of the personality, who is celebrating his 100th birthday on Wednesday. Government officials said it was the prerogative of the CM to write to PM. Sidhu said, “The honourable PM can reject my recommendation. I followed my heart in the recommendation. The writer deserves much more than he has got.”