By Accommodation Times Bureau
To bring further transparency in the sand mining business, the Punjab Cabinet on October 17 approved several major policy changes to enable the government to grant contracts by auction of mining blocks in strategically established clusters through progressive bidding instead of the earlier process of auction by individual mines.
The move would help substantially increase the royalty receipt of the State Exchequer, provide adequate supply at a fair price to the consumer, and curb illegal mining.
The decision came during the Cabinet meeting held today under the Chairmanship of Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh.
“It was decided that the new policy would come into force two months after the Cabinet approval to the Punjab State Sand and Gravel Policy, 2018 and amendment to the Punjab Minor Mineral Rules, 2013”, according to an official spokesperson.
It has also been decided that the Department of Mining would launch an online Punjab Sand Portal for sale of sand to all consumers, small or medium. All transactions/payments will be captured through the online real-time monitoring system. The sale of sand would be controlled by electronic documentation linked to central documentation, with a modern facility, and the daily progress report would be uploaded on the portal.
Notably, during 2017-18, four progressive bid e-auctions of minor mineral mines were held. Due to speculative bidding in these auctions, it resulted in a significant number of mines being auctioned at very high prices. However, many of the contractors failed to operationalise these mines, which led to a dearth of supply of sand and gravel, causing the market price of these commodities to remain high.
This was followed by consultations at various levels, including at the level of the Chief Minister. Based on these, the department had prepared a draft policy viz. ‘Punjab State Sand and Gravel Policy, 2018’ and corresponding amendment in Punjab Minor Mineral Rules, 2013 and Agreement Form L-1, it added.
Elaborating on the salient features of the new policy, the spokesperson said that the mining rights of concession quantity of sand and gravel in Mining Blocks identified by a process would be put to bidding through transparent e-auction process. Only registered companies, partnerships, societies including cooperative societies, sole proprietorships, individuals and consortia of up to three such entities would be eligible to bid, subject to fulfillment of certain conditions. The average annual turnover of the bidder during the last three financial years ending 31st March must not be less than 50% of the reserve price of the Mining Block he bids for. In the case of Consortium, the combined technical and financial capacity of all the members shall be considered for the eligibility.
The new policy provides for the quantity of sand and gravel, to be called ‘Annual Concession Quantity’, that the concessionaire shall be allowed to mine per annum from a block as detailed criteria given for seven blocks of the state. The estimated available quantity in each block is however indicative and it would be the responsibility of the bidder to make his own assessment of it before bidding, an official said.
As per policy weighment slips for transportation of sand with features like barcodes, QR codes will be stamped with the date and time, and vehicles would be tracked with the GPS/RFID tags. The policy also mandates geo-tagging of all mines while conducting physical inspections, and boundaries of mines would be checked using coordinates recorded by GPS device and the monitoring team would be able to check whether any mining activity is going on outside the permitted area or not.
The mines which are currently auctioned would continue to operate till the completion of their tenure and shall be excluded from the mining rights to be auctioned under the policy, the spokesperson clarified.