The Mining Quicksand
The chief minister’s belated attempt to take on the sand mafia may backfire
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.
DIG IT UP Sand mining at the Barhata Ghat of the Mahanadi river in Katni district