JAMMU & Kashmir is the only state where Government issues rate lists for different food items, essential commodities, construction material and the likes of it but the same is never enforced on the ground. Such rate lists are rare in other states. Our Food Civil Supplies & Consumer Affairs Department (FCS & CA), I believe, is the only Govt organisation that notifies rates for availing service of a barber. Unfortunately, these rates are never enforced on the ground. Rates are fixed by the same department for mutton, Kashmiri tandoor bread and even bakery items but these rates are seldom followed on the ground.
Exorbitant rates of Sand , Bricks
Last year, the Geology and Mining Department issued several public notices to enforce its rate list of minor minerals and processed minerals used in construction work. The District Mineral Officer (DMO) Budgam, on April 1st 2021, issued a public notice wherein rates for different riverbed materials especially sand, nallah bajri, crushed bajri (gravel), nallah boulders and other things were said to have been fixed. In addition, rates for bricks were also specified in the notice. The said notification reads as:
“On the direction of Worthy Deputy Commissioner Budgam , the general public is hereby informed to contact following phone numbers for redressal of their grievances with regard to sale of minor minerals and processed minerals (sand , nallah bajri , crushed bajri, clay , bricks etc) in district Budgam beyond the rates fixed by District Magistrate Budgam”
The contact numbers and names of the officials were provided in a tabulated form followed by rates of different construction material. The rate of bricks was fixed @Rs 21,000/3000 bricks, Sand @Rs 4200/150 Cu feet (1 tipper), Crushed bajri @Rs 3450/ 150 Cu feet (1 tipper), Quarry stone (Rubble) @Rs 1125/150 Cu feet (1 tipper) , Nallah Boulders @Rs 900/ 150 Cu feet, Nallah Muck @Rs 600/150 Cu Feet Clay @Rs 450 / 150 Cu Feet.
For instance, if the material is carried to a place 10 kms away from the source, we can add a fare of Rs 3000 approximately which means a tipper (truck) of bricks has to be sold for Rs 25000 and sand @Rs 7200 but on the ground these items are sold @Rs 32,000 and between Rs 13000 to Rs 15000 per truck respectively. What explains this?
Riverbed Mining Contracts
With an aim of streamlining the riverbed mining (RBM) in J&K, Government auctioned several mining blocks in different rivers, nallahs and streams through e-auctioning last year. From district Kathua to Kupwara and Kishtwar to Kangan and Poonch to Pulwama riverbed mining contracts have been allotted to different contractors also called project proponents (PPs). Earlier, the Geology & Mining Department would only take royalty from the people involved in mining trade including truck drivers carrying the riverbed material like sand, boulders, nallah bajri etc . In 2016, Govt came up with new mining rules known as Jammu and Kashmir Minor Mineral Concession, Storage and Transportation of Minerals and Prevention of Illegal Mining Rules 2016 also known as J&K Minor Mineral Rules 2016. These rules were framed to counter illegal mining in rivers , nallahs and streams. If we analyse anything that has changed after the Govt invoked new rules or e-auctioned the mining blocks in different water bodies (rivers, streams, nallahs), I personally believe that the situation has deteriorated.
My analysis is not hypothetical but it is based on in-depth research and analysis that I have been doing for almost 1 year now. I have been writing extensively on this issue. On many occasions, I reported the issue live from the mining sites as well. Until 2019 -2020, sand was sold @Rs 6000 to 6500 per tipper (150 Cu feet). For the last 18 months or more, the riverbed mining contracts have increased and more material is available in the market. I know at least five riverbed mining blocks have been allotted in Budgam in Doodh Ganga and Shali Ganga rivers. In these areas, no mining was allowed 2 years back. Now, huge JCBs excavate minor minerals like sand , nallah muck , nallah bajri , boulders and the rates of these items has doubled or gone up 3 times also. As on date, sand is sold @ Rs13000 per tipper in areas located just 6 to 10 kms from the mining blocks.
On the other hand, Specific Guideline No 5 of J&K State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) makes it clear that river bed mining material has to be sold on a 50% discount to local population within 2 kms radius of mining blocks. Ironically, the material is not even sold at Govt rates in the villages located just 500 meters away from mining blocks. When I spoke to some residents of villages Sogam, Badipora, Panzan, Lalgam, Lalgund, Gudsathoo, they told me that inspite of being located 500 meters to 1 kms away from mining site , they get sand @Rs 12000 to 13000 per tipper and rate of other material is also double or even more. These villages are located around Doodh Ganga and Shali Ganga streams in Budgam. In the upper reaches of Chadoora Budgam, the mining material is sold @Rs 15000 to 16000 per tipper.
Chief Secretary J&K Arun Kumar Mehta in a meeting held in December last year, officers took a strong notice of unfair trade practice of construction material. In addition to being sold on highly exorbitant rates at source (mining blocks, brick kilns), the building material is sold on retail at small kiosks in Srinagar and other towns. The customers are fleeced as rates are further high.
I want to ask the State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA), why they aren’t acting, if the contractors/project proponents are not abiding by their guidelines which paved a way for issuance of environmental clearance (EC).
Many other guidelines are also violated which I have explained in my previous articles and the same have now been put before National Green Tribunal (NGT) as well through an appeal against grant of EC to M/S NKC Projects Pvt Ltd who are doing mining for personal use in the Ring Road project while as the mining contract is given only for local consumption in an area of 2 kms radius. Even JCBs can’t be used for riverbed mining as the work is to be done manually or using semi mechanized machines that will help generate employment for local population on the pattern on MG-NGREGA. The J&K Minor Mineral Rules 2016 , SEIAA guidelines lay special emphasis on it.
Recently, the Food Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs (FCS & CA) Department fixed rates (service charges) for barbers. The department has fixed rates for fruits , vegetables and mutton as well as lots of other commodities. On ground nobody is bothered to abide by these orders. These rate lists, notifications and circulars are issued just for a formality.
We sacrificed our water bodies, rivers and streams as many mining contracts were allotted in the last few years for a very paltry sum. On an average, a mineral block is auctioned for mere Rs 1.30 crores for 5 years while the contractors / PPs earn crores in months through illegal ways like excavating minerals at night time, using JCBs, selling material at exorbitant rates, not giving 50% discount to locals.
What has a poor taxpayer gotten in return ? We used to get a sand truck for Rs 6000 two years back and the same is sold @ Rs 13000 now. The bricks were sold @ Rs 25000 / truck and they are now sold @ Rs 32 ,000 per 3000 bricks.
This situation reminds me of the famous urdu couplet Na Khudaa hi Milaa Na Wisaal e Sanam , Na hum Idhar ke Rahai Na Udhar key. Which means I could attain neither God nor union with my beloved. I am neither here nor there (or, I am left high and dry). We lost our natural resources , destroyed our environment and biodiversity and got nothing in return.