Members of Balu Truck Chalak Sangh demonstrate on the NH-33 at Bundu on Friday. Picture by Prashant Mitra
Ranchi, Oct. 25: The auction of sand pits on riverbanks has sparked protests across districts, proving to be a tough political test for the Hemant Soren government, which is drawing flak for allowing outsiders in the bidding process and ignoring tribal rights.
From political parties to gram sabhas, voices of discontent could be heard far and wide. Auctions had to be postponed in several districts like Ramgarh and Simdega on Tuesday, Deoghar and Dumka on Wednesday, and Gumla, West Singhbhum, Ramgarh, Koderma and Giridih yesterday after protests swelled.
Hemant, who handles the mines portfolio, has failed to find support from ally Congress, too. Yesterday, Congress leader and energy minister Rajendra Prasad Singh objected to the way the auction process was going on. Earlier during an auction in Simdega, a group of Congress workers, led by district president Niel Tirkey, chased away representatives of a Mumbai-based company that had come to take part in the bidding for 21 ghats.
In all districts, the main fear being voiced was that if outsiders like the Mumbai firm grabbed rights to excavate sand from riverbanks, it would lead to a mafia raj. Besides, the rate of sand, a basic raw material for constructing houses, would shoot up.
Members of gram sabhas, on the other hand, claimed that the government subverted their rights by not letting them have a say in the auction process. They cited the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, which says that prior recommendation of gram sabhas or panchayats is mandatory for grant of concession for exploitation of minor minerals by auction.
“On October 3, as many as 27 sand banks were auctioned for three years for Rs 4.24 crore. But none of the village chiefs was contacted before auctioning, which is violation of PESA Act that gives gram sabhas rights over minor mineral,” said Amit Topno, chief of Udikel panchayat in Khunti’s Torpa block.
Truckers supplying sand to construction sites have their own gripe. “Earlier, we could collect sand anytime after paying local labourers. But now, we have to complete a lot of documentation work as contractors are slowly taking over riverbanks and they charge high,” said truck owner Rakesh Kumar, who is in the sand supply business for over a decade.
Mines director B.B. Singh said he was not aware of any objection. “The process of auction is being undertaken at the district level. It is going on across the state. So far, I don’t have any idea about problems faced by gram sabhas, truckers or consumers,” he said.
District mining officer of Khunti Kapildeo Prasad described the issues as “teething problems”. “Eighty per cent of the amount earned by the state from sand mining will be spent on development of panchayats where the ghats are located. Only 20 per cent will go to the state,” he said.
Prasad denied that the PESA Act was being violated. “Village chiefs were taken into confidence before starting the auction. It is natural for them to have some objections as till now, they enjoyed full freedom over sale. But they will soon realise that they will be benefited once they get sufficient money for development.”