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Sand policy to curb infighting, pilfering

Govt reduces licence period and area to be mined by each person and introduces advance payment for lease

Illegal mining on the Ajoy river in Burdwan’s Kanksa. Picture by Arup Sarkar

Calcutta, July 22: The government has changed the rules of the game for sand mining by reducing the lease period and the area each licencee can mine, the move aimed at curbing Trinamul factional feud and preventing pilfering so that revenues flow to the state coffers.

The new policy was made public today through a media release, a day after Mamata Banerjee sent a stern message to those in the party who are involved in illegal sand mining.

"Those who want to fight with each other over sand mining will have no place in the party," the chief minister said during the "martyrs' day" rally at Esplanade.

Mamata had broached the topic at the 100th administrative meeting of the government in Burdwan on July 15 too. She had asked the district authorities to initiate action against those involved in illegal sand mining.

"She is serious about preventing problems over sand mining. There was a need to take a re-look at the policy of distributing sand mining rights as fighting over the control of ghats (designated places from where sand is lifted) is troubling the party," a minister said.

The Telegraph takes a closer look at the new sand policy.

Reducing area

Earlier, a person used to get a five-year mining lease from the land and land reforms department to lift sand from a stretch of the riverbed measuring between five and 10 acres. But according to the new policy, the government will not renew the long-term lease agreements. Instead, it will grant short-term leases to mine on a maximum of 3 acres. The sand is mainly used for construction.

OFFICIAL REASON

Government officials said reducing the mined area would give the administration more control of sand mines.

"Earlier, each mined area was between five and 10 acres. The vastness of the area made it tough for ground-level staff to find out whether illegal mining was taking place. Now, no mine will be allowed to lift sand from an area more than three acres. It is always easier to keep vigil on a smaller area," an official said.

ACTUAL REASON

Senior officials said the move would allow the government to make more people part of the trade. For example, on a stretch of about 20km on the Ajay river between Bolpur and Nanoor in Birbhum, sand is lifted from 12 spots, but there are only three licencees. Two prominent Trinamul leaders are said to be fighting over the control of the unlicenced mines.

The upper limit on the mining area would allow the government to accommodate more people in the business. "It will stop Trinamul infighting. For instance, on the Birbhum stretch, both leaders will be able to engage their men to run the ghats," an official said.

There are about 400 ghats in south Bengal. Once the new policy is implemented, at least 1,200 people can be allowed to be part of the trade as the size of the ghats will become smaller. This will help the ruling establishment prevent infighting over the control of ghats.

Lease term slash

The government has decided to replace the five-year lease term with short-term quarry permits for three months. The permits will have to be renewed every three months.

OFFICIAL REASON

The officials said this would allow the administration in the districts to check illegal mining. Once the three-month permits are issued, the government can choose not to renew the permission in case of a violation. The reduced time frame will allow the government to control the trade better.

In case of long-term permits, the government had to move court to cancel the lease agreement, which was a time-consuming process.

ACTUAL REASON

A minister said the government had to frame such a policy to rein in Trinamul leaders engaged in the trade. "See how an MLA and an MP are fighting over construction materials supply syndicates in Rajarhat. We could not do anything except sending messages to them. As the lease period limit will now be three months, no leader would go out of control," he said.

Advance payment

In case of short-term quarry permits, the holder will have to pay the entire sand-lifting fee and the permit charge in advance. Under the old system, a leaseholder could pay the money every three months, based on the amount of sand lifted. In the absence of proper monitoring, more sand than the amount agreed upon in the lease used to be lifted.

OFFICIAL REASON

According to the officials, this would allow the authorities to ensure money goes to the state coffers. "Earlier, it was tough to measure the amount of sand lifted over three months as the money was paid after the work was done. But now, the permit holder will have to specify the amount of sand he wants to lift and pay accordingly. We will keep a tab on whether he is lifting more sand than the amount for which he has taken the permit," an official said.

ACTUAL REASON

The move is expected to stop pilferage. Once illegal trading of sand is stopped, fighting over the spoils would also come to an end," an official said.

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