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22 Apr 2017

Bengal sand economics

Pranesh Sarkar and Snehamoy Chakraborty, TT: Several parts of Bengal have witnessed conflicts in recent months over rights to mine sand from riverbeds. There have been allegations that ruling party supporters are fighting among themselves over the spoils of the trade in districts such as Birbhum and Burdwan. The clashes have continued unabated despite repeated warnings by the chief minister against involvement of her party members in the sand trade and attempts by the government to set things right by allotting mining rights through e-auction. Aware that some suspected ruling party members were getting involved in the bitter battle over sand mining rights, Mamata Banerjee had asked her party leaders over the past few years to stay away from getting involved in the trade of sand. “Do not test my patience. Such indiscipline is not going to be tolerated,” the chief minister was quoted as telling party leaders at a recent meeting. The Telegraph takes a look at the trade
Earlier, the land and land reforms department granted licence for sand mining on a first-come-first-serve basis.
But the National Green Tribunal rejected the system and imposed a blanket ban on sand mining in Bengal, directing the state to grant licence through e-auction.
The e-auction rendered many local villagers jobless as the licensed traders preferred machinery to manual labourer.
Under the earlier system, ruling party leaders engaged local youths to extract sand from the riverbed, granting employment to many and strengthening the organisational base in the process.
Sources said many Trinamul leaders who earlier controlled the mining had resorted to harassing the traders who had secured the rights.
The state government has the authority to decide where mining would be allowed and the quantum of sand to be lifted.
Estimates suggest that there are about 700 areas from where sand is mined across the state. On an average, each of these ghats (from where sand is mined) produces sand worth Rs 10 crore annually.
Until the e-auction was introduced,the mining trade involved over 30,000people as labourers. But the traders now lift sand with earthmovers and other equipment.
The new system is likely to earn the government more revenue. "Earlier, we used to earn Rs 300 crore annually from the ghats.... But now, it appears we would fetch more than Rs 1,500 crore every year," an official said.
In Bengal, sand mined from rivers like the Ajay, Mayurakshi and the Damodar in Birbhum, Burdwan and Bankura are best in quality.
Officials said each of these districts has over 200 sand mines and many illegal ones.
Sand mining had remained a way of earning quick money for politicians in Bengal for many years. When the land department issued licences on a first-come-first-serve basis, these political leaders controlled the mining areas for a nominal fee to the government.
"But they earned handsome amounts.As it was a way to earn quick money, the trade often led to infightingin the ruling party," an official said.
After the e-auction system, the number of clashes over the spoils of the trade has gone up.
Local youths who have lost a way of earning because of the introduction of machines by those who secured the mining rights have attacked the offices and workers of the traders.
As the area of illegal sand mining has shrunk considerably, local politicians have been fighting among themselves to gain control of the ghats.

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