Rajasthan High Court quashes state mining policy favouring masonry stone miners

Petitioners allege loss of public revenue because of discriminatory policy

 
By Anupam Chakravartty
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015 | 02:50:09 AM

The Rajasthan High Court has quashed a state government policy that granted mining leases for sandstone and masonry stone in four villages of Jodhpur tehsil. The court order of March 13 termed the policy as discriminatory.

The case details of 19 writ petitions presented in the Jodhpur seat of the high court show that the state government changed the mining policy to favour masonry stone miners over sandstone miners in four villages—Bujhawad, Choukha, Gangana and Rohila Kallan.  

In 2004, following a survey by the state mining department, it was found that masonry stone and sandstone occur in this area in a complex way which makes it difficult to separate the two types of stone. According to the petitioners, most of whom hail from the sandstone mining community of Jodhpur tehsil, the state government is acting in collusion with local mining interests. It is taking advantage of the complex mineral topography of the region, and blurring the distinction between sandstone and masonry stone so as to accommodate the interests of mining companies.  

The mining department had earlier adopted the “first-come first-served” approach through a sandstone policy formulated in 2007.  

The petitioners alleged that the state government by an order of November 16, 2011, illegally sought to give preference to the applicants for masonry stone while ignoring the claim of applicants for sandstone. Sandstone is the larger and dressed stone block, which earns much higher royalty than masonry stone. It is alleged by the petitioners, headed by Ram Prakash Sharma, that the state government introduced the policy for extraneous reasons to favour masonry stone miners. These miners broke the precious sandstone into smaller pieces, sold it as masonry stone and paid lower royalty, thus causing a loss of public revenue.  

“No such preference should be given. Upon survey conducted by the mining department in 2004, it was found beyond the pale of doubt that in all four villages in question, the mineral sandstone is amply available in the said mines. With recently developed technology, large blocks of sandstone could be mined by sandstone mining applicants, earning a royalty of Rs 200 per tonne in comparison to Rs 17 per tonne for masonry stone. This would fetch much more public revenue,” stated the petitioners. Instead, the petitioners alleged, undue preference was being given to masonry stone miners.  

“Broken pieces of sandstone produced as a by-product of sandstone mining, could be converted into masonry stone by breaking them up into smaller pieces, and then sold,” says Sharma, an applicant for sandstone mining lease.  

Interestingly, before the survey was conducted in the four villages around Jodhpur, the mining department rejected applications for masonry stone mining, while insisting upon the inclusion of sandstone in mining leases to realise better royalty from these mines. 

The Rajasthan High Court had similarly quashed a discriminatory policy in 2009. The said policy formulated in 2007 gave undue benefits to masonry stone miners. 

In the case of Deepak Khanna v State of Rajasthan, the state government was instructed by the high court that all the sandstone leases, previously excluded by the policy decision of 2007, could be reconsidered. However, the state government did not revive these applications. Instead, in 2011, another discriminatory policy was specifically launched for four villages in which masonry stone quarry lease applications were given a preference.  

At present, 141 applications of sand stone and 375 applications of masonry stone are in force, out of which 85 applications of sand stone and 231 applications of masonry stone have been revived following the orders of the high court. 

Mining department officials of Rajasthan government was not available for comments.

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