Jharkhand chief minister restores power of panchayats over sand mining

Decision follows meeting with coalition partners who threatened to withdraw support

By Alok Gupta
Published: Friday 13 December 2013

Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren on Thursday announced that the right of panchayats to allow sand mining would be restored after the coalition partner of the government, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), threatened to withdraw support.

Soren took the decision to change the mining policy after a meeting with the ministers of ally parties, RJD and Congress.

In a press conference, Soren said that the existing sand mining policy was not only opposed by the various political parties but also by Jharkhand Trucker’s Association and various trade bodies. “We will restore the rights of panchayat and also ensure its implementation,” he said.

The state had drafted a village-friendly sand mining policy in 2001. It had given tax waiver and no licence was required for sand mining. In 2011, the government amended the state's minor mineral concession rules of 2004 and the amended rules of 2007 to give more benefit to panchayats. According to the amendment, panchayats had sole right to auction sand mining leases to contractors and use the money realised for development work. During the President’s rule earlier this year, a new rule was formulated under which state government was to auction sand mining rights to the highest bidder.

As a result, local contractors started losing auction bids. A vast share of sand auctioning was clinched by contractors from outside the state.

Irate over the exploitation of state resources and labour issues, Jharkhand Trucker’s Association went on indefinite strike for over a month in November. The strike nearly stalled ongoing construction work and cost of construction in the state spiralled.

The issue of sand mining from river banks became a burning issue during the ongoing winter session of the Assembly. While Soren’s ruling coalition partner RJD threatened to withdraw support, the opposition staged walkouts from the Legislative Assembly.

State water resources minister, Annapurna Devi of RJD, expressed happiness over the amendment in sand mining policy. “Panchayats have won back their rights,” she said.

Leaders of Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) are not satisfied with the chief minister’s announcement. They said that decision and announcement have no substance. “Soren has made no comments on what will happen to leases already auctioned to contractors from outside the state. Will the government scrap the auction or take some alternative course of action?” they questioned.

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