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House sees war of words over sand prices

Comments Off on House sees war of words over sand prices   |   November 2, 2013    08:51am   |Contributed by manoja

Cong accuses govt of shielding mining mafia; Industry Minister says high prices due to high demand
Sanjeev Singh Bariana & Ruchika M. Khanna/TNS

Chandigarh, October 31
The Congress MLAs today accused the SAD-BJP government of sheltering those involved in illegal mining and having failed to have an effective mining policy, which had led to the spiraling prices of sand and gravel across Punjab.

The debate, taken up on the insistence of the Leader of Opposition, Sunil Jakhar, citing public importance, saw allegations and counter allegations flowing between the treasury benches and the Opposition benches.

While Congress MLA from Kharar Jagmohan Singh Kang named two prominent Akali leaders from his constituency — AS Khera and Ujagar Singh Wadali — for being involved in illegal mining, Industries Minister Madan Mohan Mittal charged at him and accused him (Kang) of being the “kingpin of mining mafia”.

Interestingly, Revenue Minister Bikramjit Singh Majithia, who had been accused by Qadian Congress MLA Charanjit Kaur Bajwa of spearheading the illegal mining operations in the state, remained absent from the House during the zero hour when the debate on the issue was taking place in the Vidhan Sabha today.

However, former SAD MLA Sarabjit Singh Makkar was seen sitting in the Visitors Gallery, as the two sides debated on the high price of sand and gravel and allegations continued to reverberate in the Assembly.

Starting the debate, Industries Minister Madan Mohan Mittal said the reason for high prices of sand and gravel was that the demand of the minor minerals was much more than supply. “We have a large number of sand quarries identified across the state. But because of delay in getting environmental clearances from the Centre and because of frequent court orders on the issue, we are unable to auction these quarries and increase demand,” he said, adding that many development works in the state had been shelved because of the poor availability of this construction material. He was supported by Ropar MLA Daljit Singh Cheema, who said poor availability was hurting economic development in the state. However, his statement was rejected by the Congress MLAs. Kang, who spoke for his party, said that while Rajasthan and Karnataka can get environmental clearances, there was no reason why Punjab should be denied this. “It just suits some powerful people to have a low demand, as they can then monopolise the trade,” he said.

The Leader of Opposition then raised pertinent points on the issue, including the fact that the state government had been unable to hold auction of quarries in a fair manner and courts had to intervene and auction was then held in the court itself. He also said that it was strange that a journalist (referring to Jalandhar-based journalist Jasdeep Malhotra) investigating the sand mining dies mysteriously, and demanded a probe into his death. He also asked the Chief Minister to step in and make efforts to control prices by setting up state-run depots for sale of sand and gravel. In case there is delay in getting clearances, I can accompany you to meet the Union Environment Minister,” he said. Later, the House passed a resolution saying effective steps should be taken to control prices.

It just suits some powerful people to have a low demand, as they can then monopolise the trade of sand and gravel
— Jagmohan Singh Kang, Congress MLA

We have a large number of sand quarries identified… But because of delay in getting environmental clearances from the Centre…we are unable to auction these quarries and increase demand
— Madan Mohan Mittal, Industries Minister

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