Chandigarh: Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh has prima facie ruled out cancellation of the recent sand mine auctions under pressure from the Opposition parties or as a result of media trials.
Captain Amarinder has categorically ruled out taking any arbitrary action on the issue, saying he would not succumb to political pressure, nor would he allow his judgement and decisions to be influenced by media trials. Any decision in the matter would be based on judicious application of the law, and in the interest of justice, he added.
His information showed the auctions were conducted with total transparency and fairness, under the supervision of a committee headed by a retired High Court judge and two senior IAS officers, said the Chief Minister, who had sought detailed inputs from the Department of Mining following media reports that the e-auctions had been compromised to benefit certain individuals.
Based on the information received, Captain Amarinder felt that there was, prima facie, no substance in the allegations raised by certain quarters of unfair and discriminatory dealings in the entire mining auction process, according to an official spokesperson.
As far as the charges against Irrigation & Power Minister Rana Gurjit Singh were concerned, the government was awaiting the report of the Judicial Commission set up to probe the same, the Chief Minister reiterated, underlining the need for a fair legal investigation into the matter, in the interest of justice.
Unless categorically proved to the contrary, there was no reason to believe any ambiguity or lack of transparency in the process of auction of 102 mines through progressive bidding process on the e-auction platform by ITI Ltd, an Indian Government PSU which is already time tested and is being successfully used by other states, the Chief Minister said in a statement issued here, reacting to reports raising doubts about the fairness and impartiality of the auction process.
Since it was a web-based system, the identity of the bidders participating in the e-auctions, conducted on May 19 & 20, was not known to other bidders to prevent any cartelization, or use of pressure of any kind to prevent bidding by other bidders. What is more, any complaint received from bidders regarding any technical issues faced during e-auction was dealt with promptly by the helpdesk provided by ITI Ltd., an official spokesperson cited inputs received by the Chief Minister from the Department of Mining to point out.
The spokesperson, giving further details of the entire auction process, said the reserve price was fixed while considering the royalty (@ Rs. 60 per tonne) and other Government expenses. The bidders were given sufficient time for depositing the requisite earnest money (EMD) along with other documents. The reserve price was fixed depending upon the material available in each mine, and varied between Rs. 6 lac to Rs. 9 cr. The bidders were also advised to check the areas to be auctioned and to ascertain, at their level, whether the mines were suitable for operations.
Further, said the spokesperson, the e-auction dates, details of mines etc were publicized widely through advertisements in newspapers, official gazette and through departmental website, which led around 1026 bidders applying for this auction, underlining the total transparency and fairness with which the process was conducted.
During the process, it was observed that for eight mines no EMD was received and those could be not put to auction. For 18 mines, only one bidder deposited EMD and for other mines multiple bidders ranging from 2 to 32 deposited EMD. For the 18 mines in which a single bidder deposited EMD, the total quantity was 79.78 lac tonnes. Considering their large capacities, it was decided after due deliberation to allow the sole bidders to bid for these 18 mines. However out of these 18 mines, not a single bid was finally received for the two Hoshiarpur mines during the e-auction, leaving 16 mines with H1 bidder.
It is pertinent to mention that out of 94 mines no bid was received for 5 mines (including 2 above stated mines of single bidders). As per auction notification condition No. 21, the 89 H1 bidders of 89 mines were issued provisional acceptance individually, as each mine was auctioned separately. The provisional acceptance letter was issued in accordance with Rule 37(3) of Punjab Minor Mineral Rule, 2013 and H1 bidders were instructed to deposit the requisite amount within two days from the date of issuance of the letter.
The information regarding deposition of requisite amount was also conveyed to H1 bidder through newspapers, departmental website and through emails. Out of 89 mines, H1 bidders of 50 mines deposited the requisite amount within two days. Once the amount was reconciled, the department issued letters to the remaining H1 bidders of 39 mines regarding forfeiture of their EMD as per the conditions laid down in the e-Auction notification dated 03.05.3017 and they were given seven days’ notice for blacklisting them from participation in future e-auctions of mines.
The spokesperson said these e-auctions were expected to boost supply of material, resulting in stability of demand and pricing pressure relief to the consumers, with significant revenue earnings for the government. The government will release another 70 lakh tonnes of mines through auction in the second week of June, to further ease the demand-supply pressure, which is also expected to stabilize significantly once the monsoon ends and operations begin full steam, said the spokesperson, adding that this will lead to drastic decline in the price of sand in the state.