RJD and Congress ministers keep up pressure against auction policy saying may consider withdrawing support if policy continues

Coalition partners Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD) and Congress kept up the pressure on Chief Minister Hemant Soren over the issue of auctioning of sand from riverbeds. A day earlier following public criticism from other cabinet ministers from Congress and RJD, the government had announced that the auctions have been suspended in 17 of 24 districts where the process was still underway.

On Wednesday, RJD leader and Minister for Social Welfare Annapurna Devi and Jharkhand State Congress president Sukhdeo Bhagat demanded the government withdraw the policy that would allow companies from outside the state to lift and trade in riverbed sand or the coalition could not continue. “We met the CM and demanded that the government scrap this policy. We are waiting for his response. Our support to the government will depend on this issue,” said Minister Annapurna Devi of RJD. Since last week, several Congress ministers have publicly criticised the decision which they said Mr. Soren had taken without consulting coalition partners.

In the 81-member Assembly, RJD’s six MLAs and 11 MLAs of Congress are among the 43 MLAs who support the government led by Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM). “The Congress cannot support a policy for control of minor minerals in a Schedule V Area where such rights must stay with panchayats,” said Jharkhand Congress State President Sukhdeo Bhagat. On Wednesday, MLA Bandhu Tirkey the sole MLA of Jharkhand Janadhikar Party and one of seven MLAs who support the JMM in the house also criticised the auction policy.

Section 4(k) of the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act, 1996, recommends that the recommendations of the gram sabha or the panchayats at the appropriate level shall be mandatory for grant of prospecting license or mining lease for minor minerals by auction, but the Jharkhand Panchayati Raj Act 2001 has no provisions for this. 

In 2001, when the state was created, sand mining from riverbanks was permitted without licenses and was not taxed. In 2011 the BJP-JMM government led by Arjun Munda 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. “The auctions have so far been carried out in seven districts in line with the Supreme Court order which said that such resources be used only after receiving environment clearances, which the companies that bid will be required to have. There has been no violation of rules by the government,” said JMM spokesperson Binod Pandey.