As sand, gravel prices skyrocket in Punjab, AAP govt opens its own store, mulls doorstep delivery

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Amid reports of skyrocketing prices of sand and gravel, the Punjab government Monday opened its first sales centre in Mohali where the construction essential will be available to all at “affordable rates”, the move coming years after a similar bid by the previous SAD-BJP dispensation to run a sand vend had failed to kick off.

Inaugurating the sales centre, Mines Minister Harjot Singh Bains said the construction material will be initially made available at Rs 28 per cubic feet and the prices will be slashed further once the supply increases in future.

“It is our endeavour that such centres will be opened in each district in the state in coming days,” said the minister, adding that development authorities have been asked to provide land for the same. He said the initiative would go a long way in nipping the menace of sand mafia in the bud.

Enquiries by The Indian Express over the past few days revealed that the sand was being sold at rates ranging Rs 40 to Rs 55 per cubic feet in different parts of the state.

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Munish Bansal, a trader in Nandpur Kalaur village in Fatehgarh Sahib said that sand was available for Rs 40 per cubic feet. “The supply is short. We have purchased it at high price. People who cannot wait for prices to and have to carry out construction are the only ones who are buying the sand,” he said.

Rakesh Noni, a trader in Bathinda said that crushed sand was available for Rs 62 per cubic feet, sand at Rs 50 per cubic feet and gravel at Rs 48 per cubic feet. “I can say that these are very high rates. The sand is not available in the market,” he said.

Soon after taking over the reins of the state, the Bhagwant Mann-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) amended the 2021 sand and gravel mining policy to fix the rates of sand at Rs 9 per cubic feet at pit head and also the maximum retail price of gravel at Rs 20 per cubic feet, excluding transportation charges.

But over the past few weeks, the sand prices skyrocketed.

Sources said that this was essentially because many mines could not be made operational as the government did not have environment clearance.

Meanwhile, Bains claimed that middlemen, who were stocking up on building material, and some transporters were creating scarcity of sand gravel and selling it at Rs 60 to 80 per cubic feet.

“We have found a solution to it,” said the minister while referring to the opening of the government-owned sales centre. “We have 2 lakh metric tonne of supply at this centre and people can purchase at the government rates,” he said, adding the prices will ease to Rs 15-16 per cubic feet when the supply of mining material increases in future.

The minister also claimed that 90 per cent of illegal mining has been stopped in Punjab. He, though, said there may be some stray incidents in the night and in which FIRs have been lodged.

Bains said the department has now decided that a fine of Rs 2 lakh will be imposed if any truck was found carrying construction material which was extracted illegally. If the fine is not deposited within two weeks, then the impounded vehicle will be auctioned to recover the fine, he said.

He also slammed the previous governments over the issue of illegal sand mining, claiming that lakhs of metric tonne of construction material was sold in an illegal manner.

“The Punjab and Haryana High court banned mining operations in the state on November 10,” he said, without clarifying the reason behind the high court’s order.

However, the state government after arranging sand and gravel from outside of the state has been daily supplying 90,000 MT of construction material in Punjab, Bains added.

An officer of the mining department told The Indian Express that they received around 300 calls, mostly from other districts, from people looking to buy sand and gravel. The officer added that the government is in the process of developing a mobile application which would enable the people to order the gravel and sand for doorstep delivery.

The officer further said that once the order is placed via the app, the department will arrange the transport and issue bills, which would help the transporter in hassle free delivery.

“At present the transportation could be one of the issues, but once we streamline the process it will be very helpful for the people,” another officer said.

About a question on sale of sand and gravel at present, the officer said that they have mentioned the contact numbers of three officials including a Sub-Divisional Officer (SDO) and two Junior Engineers (JEs) whom people can call to buy sand and gravel. He added that the buyers are open to the option of either taking transport facility from them or arranging it on their own. “The lines shall be open from 9 am to 5 pm for booking the orders,” the officer added.

The move to open a sales centre, meanwhile, invited criticism from the Opposition with Shiromani Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Badal claiming that there was no clarity ion sand rates.

“In August 2022, CM Mann had announced to provide sand at Rs 9 per cubic feet, but it was sold at rates that were five times higher. Today his govt revised the rate to Rs 28 cubic feet plus freight charges. Actual price: Anyone’s guess? The AAP government is playing into hands of sand mafia to drive up prices and receive kickbacks,” Badal said.

The illegal sand mining was among key issues in the 2022 state assembly polls and the Aam Aadmi Party targeted the previous government over the issue during the poll campaign.



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