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New twist to sand row

Ranchi, Dec. 14: The Hemant Soren government may have given in to the demand of Opposition parties and ruling allies to hand over management of riverbanks to panchayati raj institutions, but the sand row seems far from over.

Representatives of various gram sabhas today expressed their unhappiness with the decision, which they termed as “infringement on the rights of rural bodies”, giving a new twist to the controversy that had put Hemant Soren in a tight spot.

The representatives, who assembled at Social Development Centre on Purulia Road, said provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act 1996 (or PESA) gave management of sand and other minor minerals to gram sabhas, and not to panchayats.

“This is violation of Section 4 of PESA Act. Then chief minister Arjun Munda had realised it in 2004 and gave management of riverbanks to gram sabhas. But now the state government is changing its rules,” said Deven Singh, the gram pradhan of Lilem village in East Singhbhum.

Another gram pradhan, Kanhai Singh of Turia Bera village, echoed Deven’s views.

“We will launch a movement if panchayati raj institutions try to infringe upon our rights,” he added.

Notably, the chief minister on December 11 decided to nullify open auction of riverbanks across Jharkhand for sand mining in the face of mounting pressure from the ruling allies.

The next day, the cabinet endorsed the chief minister’s decision and handed over riverbanks to panchayati raj bodies. It also decided to cancel all sand mining contracts awarded to various companies in 10 districts where auction process was over.

A senior government official, however, said gram sabhas’ apprehension was baseless. “The panchayati raj department works to protect interests of rural people. If the government has allowed the department to manage ghats, they should rest assured that they would not be deprived of their rights,” he added.