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Hemant gives in, sand ghats go to panchayats

Ranchi, Dec. 11: Chief minister Hemant Soren today decided to bow to the demands of allies in government to nullify auctioning of sand ghats and agreed to hand over management of river beds to local panchayati raj institutions.

A cabinet meeting is likely to be held tomorrow afternoon to discuss ways and means to introduce the new arrangement.

“We have agreed to hand over sand ghat management to panchayati raj bodies. But, there are several technical hurdles in the way of beginning sand mining immediately,” Hemant said after holding a two-hour-long meeting with allies in the presence of state advocate general R.S. Majumdar and senior officials including chief secretary R.S. Sharma.

Hemant added that the government would also seek the opinion of legal experts. “But the reported differences among the ruling partners have been sorted out,” he added, going out of his way to clarify that all was well within the JMM-Congress-RJD alliance.

Today’s meeting was attended by the Congress, JMM and a representative of MCC which is supporting the government. Key ally RJD stayed away.

While the Congress was represented by state party chief Sukhdeo Bhagat and minister C.S. Dubey, the JMM’s presence was in the form of minister Haji Hussain Ansari and the chief minister himself.

Sources privy to the discussions said Dubey cited the provisions of Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act which empowered gram sabhas to hold the rights to minor minerals in their respective areas.

The chief minister cited technical and legal hurdles in the way of nullifying the open auction decision. But, he was overruled by Congress leaders who made it clear that the decision was against the directive of the party high command and that the RJD would also never relent.

RJD indicated its mind in the morning when its legislature party leader and water resources minister Annapurna Devi clarified that the only way the government could function was to nullify the auctioning of sand ghats.

In fact, she reached the meeting venue at Project Building only after it concluded. “Everything has been sorted out,” she told newspersons later.

Rural development minister Chandra Shekhar Dubey of the Congress indicated how relieved they were. He said that it was immaterial whether the issue figured in tomorrow’s cabinet meeting.

“The government has already agreed to nullify auctioning of sand ghats and the old arrangement will continue,” he said.

In the afternoon, Congress state president Sukhdeo Bhagat had also clarified that his party did not approve of auctioning of sand ghats to shore up the state’s revenues.

“The erstwhile Arjun Munda government, through a well knit conspiracy, amended the rules and regulations and paved the way for auctioning sand ghats. But, a popular government backed by the Congress is meant to fulfil the aspirations of commoners instead of sticking to the book,” he argued.

Hemant, who had to stay the auction of riverbeds in October following protests, recently directed the mines and geology department to go ahead with the process.

While the Opposition pilloried the government on the decision, even allies Congress and RJD and friendly Independents threatened to break up the coalition.

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