A two-day e-auction of sand mines in Punjab culminated with total bids worth a whopping Rs 1,026 crore secured for 89 mines – the highest ever earnings for the state government from the sand mining business. “The successful bid amount is more than 20 times last year’s bids of just Rs 40 crore, indicating the extent to which the sand mafia was controlling the business, causing huge losses to the state coffers,” said an official spokesperson.
The release of surplus sand into the market will lead to easing of pressure, thus earning huge revenue for the state government, which will eventually lead to significant lowering of sand prices, Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh said after the e-auctions.
He allayed fears of the high progressive bidding, triggering a price increase.
As many as 1,000 bidders participated in the e-auction of 102 mines conducted by the Department of Mining in four blocks on May 19 and 20 under the supervision of a retired High Court judge and two IAS officers from other departments.
Of the 102 mines put on auction, earnest money was received against 94, of which a total of 89 mines were finally auctioned, the spokesperson said.
The new mines for which the e-auctions have been successfully conducted will release an estimated 1.30 crore tonnes of material into the market, thus adding to the existing capacity of 1.05 crore tonnes.
Located in the crucial, high-demand areas of Ludhiana, Mohali, Jalandhar and Amritsar, among other important regions, the mines, once operational, will fill the yawning supply-demand gap for sand in the state to ease the pricing pressure.
According to the spokesperson, successful bidders of the two-day e-auction would need to deposit security instalment money on May 22 and 23, failing which their earnest money will be forfeited, followed by blacklisting of the bidder.
For mines where no bid has been received or where the bidders fail to deposit the money, a fresh auction will be conducted immediately, he said.
Sand prices in Punjab had witnessed some escalation in recent weeks following a crackdown by the Captain Amarinder Singh government on the sand mafia, which had allegedly mushroomed under the patronage of officials of the erstwhile Akali-BJP government.
To curb the rampant illegal mining, the new government had ordered major steps to unshackle the sand mining business from the control of the mafia, with impactful initiatives to bring in greater transparency in the systems and processes related to mining.
These include physical checks, including the establishment of a robust mechanism at the district-level where ADC and SP-level officers are working as nodal officers to check illegal mining.
A detailed review is being conducted every month by the District Mineral Foundation and State Mineral Foundation. The Department of Mining is also mulling stationing of retired army personnel at mining sites through PESCO.
The Department is also strengthening its technological processes to ensure stringent checks at various steps of the mining business, including centralised slip generation system through i3MS system, as used in Odisha and recommended by the Government of India.
The department is also planning to introduce satellite- based monitoring, for which preliminary work has already been initiated. CCTV cameras will also be used at critical places, for which a pilot project will soon be launched in Ludhiana, said the spokesman.