The Min­ing Quicksand

The chief min­is­ter’s be­lated at­tempt to take on the sand mafia may back­fire

India Today - - STATES - By Rahul Noronha

On May 22, in a move that sur­prised many (including some in his own party), Shivraj Singh Chouhan an­nounced a com­plete ban on mech­a­nised sand min­ing in Mad­hya Pradesh. The chief min­is­ter told re­porters in Bhopal that a com­mit­tee headed by min­ing min­is­ter Rajendra Shukla and tech­ni­cal ex­perts from IIT Kharag­pur would ex­am­ine eco­log­i­cally sus­tain­able meth­ods to mine sand.

Chouhan’s an­nounce­ment was sur­pris­ing be­cause a ‘no-machines-for-ex­ca­va­tion’ clause was al­ready part of the state en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact com­mit­tee’s manda­tory con­di­tions for sand min­ing op­er­a­tions.

Op­po­si­tion lead­ers say his in­abil­ity to con­trol il­le­gal min­ing has been Chouhan’s big­gest fail­ing after the Vya­pam scam. Even BJP lead­ers like former min­is­ter Ka­mal Pa­tel, who pe­ti­tioned the Na­tional Green Tri­bunal on il­le­gal min­ing, has been crit­i­cal of the CM on this. Op­po­si­tion par­ties have for long pointed to the in­volve­ment of the CM’s rel­a­tives in sand min­ing on the banks of the Nar­mada in his home district of Se­hore. They say by ex­ca­vat­ing huge vol­umes of sand be­yond their des­ig­nated lease ar­eas, Chouhan’s family mem­bers have avoided pay­ing crores in roy­al­ties to the state. They cite in­stances where min­ing of­fi­cers have seized over­loaded dumpers be­long­ing to his rel­a­tives.

Many say by re­it­er­at­ing the ban on mech­a­nised min­ing, Chouhan has ac­knowl­edged what the op­po­si­tion has al­leged all along. Why then did he do it? Was the chief min­is­ter, as some be-

lieve, plan­ning to rein in er­rant family mem­bers while un­der­scor­ing his own com­mit­ment to river con­ser­va­tion? Or did he buckle un­der pres­sure from the Sangh pari­var af­fil­i­ates who at­tended a con­ven­tion on wa­ter on the side­lines of the re­cently con­cluded Nar­mada Ya­tra?

Em­bar­rass­ingly for Chouhan, he’s ended up di­rect­ing pub­lic glare on his own in­ac­tion. Congress spokesman K.K. Mishra even sug­gested that the CM’s re­cent ac­tions could be to “try and help as­so­ci­ates who have large stock­piles of sand and could now sell it at in­flated prices”.

After the an­nounce­ment, there has been a sharp in­crease in sand prices, from Rs 28 to Rs 36 a cu­bic foot. The BJP is, of course, sell­ing Chouhan’s move as an en­vi­ron­men­tal pos­i­tive: “The CM has shown his com­mit­ment to the en­vi­ron­ment. Noth­ing will come in the way of con­serv­ing rivers,” BJP spokesper­son Rahul Kothari claimed. To pro­tect the rivers, the state gov­ern­ment is now pro­mot­ing rock crush­ing to pro­duce sand and even of­fers a three­year roy­alty holiday for this in­dus­try. It also says it plans to take over the sand min­ing busi­ness. Le­gal sand pro­duc­tion in MP stands at about 20 mil­lion cu­bic me­tres a year, and fetches the gov­ern­ment Rs 250 crore in roy­al­ties.

RAHUL UPAD­HYAY

DIG IT UP Sand min­ing at the Barhata Ghat of the Ma­hanadi river in Katni district

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