Ministers from the RJD and Congress oppose the Jharkhand government's auction policy saying the move will benefit firms operating outside Jharkhand and not the local panchayats

Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren has come under attack from the government’s coalition partners Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD) and the Congress over his decision to allow companies from out of the state to bid in balughat auctions -- auctions for sand from riverbanks. Following criticisms from coalition partners, the government on Tuesday suspended the bids in progress for auction of sand from riverbanks in 17 districts. The tender process had already been completed for seven districts between September and November.

Traders’ organisations have held several protests in the state in the last month over the government’s announcement allowing contractors from outside the state to bid in auctions to lift and trade sand from riverbanks. However the Mr. Soren defended the decision saying it will help generate revenue of which over two-thirds will go to panchayats.

On Tuesday, RJD’s Annapurna Devi, who holds the Social Welfare, Women and Child Development, and Water Resources portfolios in the Soren government, said the RJD had consulted their leader Lalu Prasad who’s in Ranchi jail on charges in the fodder scam and then taken a stand on the issue. “The coalition partners were not informed before this policy decision. This policy will bring little revenue to the state while it will deprive panchayats rights over minor minerals as companies from outside the state will outbid the locals,” said minister Annapurna Devi.

Ministers for Labour and Employment Chandra Shekhar Dubey, and Human Resources Development Minister Geetashree Oraon - both from the Congress - have also criticised the government’s decision saying the right over such minor mineral resources must lay with panchayats. Jharkhand State Congress president Sukhdeo Bhagat said the party will formally state its stand on the issue on Wednesday.

In 2001, when the state was created, sand mining from riverbanks was permitted without licenses and was not taxed. In April 2011, BJP’s Arjun Munda’s government, in which Hemant Soren was deputy Chief Minister, had amended the Jharkhand Minor Mineral Concession Rules, 2004 and the Jharkhand Minor MIneral Concession (Amendment) Rules, 2007 allowing riverbanks’ sand to be auctioned at the panchayat-level. “This government has created a crisis for itself by keeping the bids so high that panchayat and district-level contractors are no longer able to participate,” said a BJP leader who was a minister in the previous government.

The issue has got intertwined with the growing clamour for a domicile policy in employment. “We demand that cooperatives societies with a majority of tribal members be given rights to lift and trade sand,” said Bandhan Tigga a religious leader of tribals of sarna faith who has led protests under the Akhil Bhartiya Sarna Dharmik Samajik Samanvay Samiti demanding a domicile policy favouring locals in hiring for class III, IV government jobs along with rights to sand mining.