Himachal Explores Options To Rein In Mining Mafia

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 Shimla: Red flagged for illegal mining, something that is even being blamed for as one of the plausible causes for the Beas Tragedy; the government plans to auction stone quarrying and sand mining sites so as to overcome construction material shortages, regulate the sector and legalize the activity.

Tied down by the National Green Tribunal diktat banning mining activity alongside all rivers, and ministry of forest and environment withholding mining lease clearances for years, industry minister Mukhesh Agnihotri, who also looks after mining told reporters here a little while ago, “to kick start mining operations, the department has identified sites in Una, Kangra and Hamirpur districts which would be thrown open for bidding by open auction procedures soon.”

He said “there are about 300 stone crushers in the state and of the 345 mining leases handed out only 166 were operational whereas another 188 were in limbo because of lack of clearances from the environment ministry.”

Industry minister Mukesh Agnihotri talking to reporters

Industry minister Mukesh Agnihotri talking to reporters

“The demand from construction industry and road building activity is large but the construction materials needed was unavailable. HP Public Works Departments road projects alone worth about 2000 crore were stuck up or slowed down because of unavailability of sand or gravel for layering needs,” said the minister.

Despite the huge demand, the environment ministry has only cleared 17 mining leases for Himachal Pradesh. Even of the 166 ongoing leases, wherever the lease period has ended, it was not being renewed for want of the mandatory environmental clearance that was not easy to get by, he added.

He said auctioning of identified mining lease sites would be for a ten year period that takes into account a two year period which it normally takes to obtain an environment clearance from central authorities.

A ten year period would help the miner to make adequate investments, would curtail illegal mining and help the department to regulate the activity, said the minister.

He added that the state government was impressing upon the central government to get the blanket ban imposed on mining by National Green Tribunal vacated and the environment ministry had been urged to set up environment committee’s for early clearances of case files of mining applications after adopting due process of law at the earliest.

The state was also seeking relaxation in granting environment approval where the mining involved was only upto 2 hectares of land.

Talking about the difficulties the hilly state faced, the minister said that at places it was even necessary to undertake mining in river beds and banks so as to clear choking and flooding spots.

He disclosed because of slowdown in mining activity in Himachal, royalty revenues from the activity had dropped.

In 2013-13 the government had received Rs 150 crore royalty from mining, which dropped to Rs 100 crore in 2013-14 and by end of first quarter of 2014-15 that ended in June, the department had earned only Rs 26 crore from mining.  Much of the mining royalty was from cement companies, the minister said.

The department has set out an ambitious Rs 250 crore royalty revenue target from mining for the current year, with district mining officers being given stiff targets to meet.

The government was making all efforts to check illegal mining and had even imposed fines to the tune of Rs 4.26 crore on the 7632 people caught in 2013-14 for undertaking the activity illegally. In this fiscal by June a fine of Rs 67 lakhs had been imposed and recovered.

Surprisingly the deterrent fine for the illegal activity was only Rs 25000 per case though the law has an provision of handing down a two year imprisonment term also for illegal mining. But there have been no cases of illegal miners being jailed for carrying out the activity.

One of the reasons being attributed for the untimely release of water from the Largi Dam that washed away 24 engineering students in Beas River last month, was that the dam was flushed so as to help illegal miners collect the sand cleared out in the process.

Editor-Reporter with Hill Post, Ravinder Makhaik as a journalist has for over two decades worked for India’s leading newspapers and television networks.

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