The Supreme Court has permitted mining in 22 rivers including that of Kosi in Uttarakhand, Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna announced on Wednesday.
Bahuguna also said the government would undertake the extraction or quarrying of sand and other small minerals from these 22 rivers in a transparent manner allowing no illegal activities. “We will place our special mining force in Kosi and other rivers to stop any illegal activities in view of some complaints,” said Bahuguna. The mining had been stopped in 22 rivers following alleged illegal activities and growing environmental concerns.
The quarrying permission in rivers came at a time when the government is facing allegations of going soft on the sand mafia. A special vigilance mining force has already been constituted in Uttarakhand to check illegal river-bed mining.
The mining force would regulate the mining activities in sensitive areas like Dehradun, Nainital, Haridwar and Udhamsingh Nagar districts where the sand mafia’s activities had been noticed in the recent past.
The officials claimed that Uttarakhand is the first state in the country to have a specialised mining force.
On the other hand, the government has set up a sub-committee of the state cabinet to bring private players in the mining business through an open tendering process. But the sub-committee which met here on Wednesday took no decision on the issue.
The government is yet to implement its new mining policy which it brought in March this year. A section of leaders from both the ruling Congress party and the BJP are claiming that the mining mafia will increase their foothold in the sector through privatisation of the mining business which in turn would adversely affect the ecology of the rivers.
However, the government claims that the move is aimed at increasing the revenue and reducing the role of the government agencies in the business. Under the new mining policy which was brought in March, the government said it can earn revenue upto Rs 400 crore through the tendering process. At present, the government earns around Rs 100-150 crore through the old policy.
Buckling under the opposition, the government has set up a five-member sub-committee of the state cabinet to take a decision on the privatisation of the mining/quarrying business which is locally known as “khanan”. The mining business provides employment opportunities to thousands of people in the hill state where the Uttarakhand Forest Development Corporation (UFDC), the Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam (GMVN) and Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (KMVN) are the three government agencies which carry out the mining.