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Truck owners warn of stir

Ranchi, Dec. 6: Traders and owners of commercial vehicles dealing in sand across Jharkhand today upped the ante against the state government’s decision to go ahead with open auction of riverbanks.

During a meeting held at FJCCI office in Ranchi, they worked out a detail plan for a campaign in view of the mines and geology department’s directive to all deputy commissioners around a week ago to restart the sand auction process. Truck operators and owners of crusher units from Ranchi, Gumla, Khunti and Ramgarh districts took part in the meeting.

Uday Shankar Ojha, the patron of Ranchi district sand-truck owners’ association, said the state had failed to protect the interests of thousands of people despite the chief minister’s repeated assurances.

“Gram sabhas should be empowered to decide such issues independently. We will now gherao MLAs to mount pressure on the government,” he said.

Also, Ojha added, they would march to Raj Bhavan on December 13, hold a torch light procession on December 17 and a chakka jam in Ranchi on December 20, if the government did not heed their demands.

Notably, in the last week of October, chief minister Hemant Soren had stalled the auctions under mounting pressure from different sections, including his Cabinet colleagues. The government withdrew the stay later.

Recently, the chief minister told The Telegraph that open auction was a standard practice and there was nothing wrong in it.

The government aims to raise Rs 150 crore annualy from sand auction.

“The government will provide a large portion of the funds collected through auction to panchayats,” Hemant told The Telegraph recently.

Sources said 80 per cent of the revenue earned would go to gram sabhas and panchayats, while the remaining 20 per cent would accrue to the government.

But, Ojha alleged that the government was depriving local traders and truck operators of opportunities to earn their living. According to members of the truck owners’ association, around three lakh people, who used to earn livelihood by collecting and loading sand, had been hit by the state’s move.

They also said sand would soon become a rare commodity and might be sold in kilograms, and not truckloads.

In September-October, the state government had come in the line of fire when it tried to auction sand mines across the state. Around 100 out of over 600 mines were auctioned in about 10 districts with Mumbai-based firms taking over most of ghats.

This has led to apprehensions that sand prices may shoot up and hit real estate.

But sources said under minor mineral rules, a deputy commissioner had the power to fix maximum price beyond which successful bidders could not sell sand. “It will help prevent monopoly and exploitation,” said a senior official with the department.

Order reserved

Jharkhand High Court reserved its order on Friday in a PIL alleging illegal auction of sand ghats to those close to chief minister Hemant Soren. The petioner, Diwan Indranil Sinha, claimed local gram sabhas had been bypassed while allowing the auctions. Arguing for the state government, additional advocate general Ajit Kumar denied the allegations, saying no law had been violated