Dubious Deals

Violating its own rules, the state government’s department of Geology and Mining has leased out blocks for collection of royalty to non-locals across Kashmir at cheap prices. The affected local quarry owners have approached the court to seek re-tendering of the blocks but there seems to be a method to the madness, Shams Irfan reports

Sand-Diggers

On March 29, 2013, the state’s Department of Geology and Mining placed an advertisement in Kashmir based local dailies inviting bids for royalty collection contract for minor block No: VI (River Jhelum from Niana Bridge to Kadalbal Pampore). On the same day, the contract was allotted to a New Delhi based M/S Azam Mining Pvt. Ltd. for a period of six months for a sum of Rs 15.75 lakh only.

The allotment order (a copy of which is with Kashmir Life) mentions that M/S Azam has deposited the requisite fifty percent of the consideration amount of Rs 787500 on March 28 to Assistant Mining Engineer (DD No: 433263), a day before the contract was actually allotted.

The contract became effective from April 1 and the same day, M/S Azam reached the allotted area with a fleet of dumper trucks and labourers from New Delhi.

Apart from Block No VI River Jhelum from Niana Bridge to Kadalbal Pampore, M/S Azam was given royalty collection contract for Plot no 3 from Rajpora to Tangpora, Pulwama against a sum of Rs 2.66 lakh for six months (DD No: 433261), Stone quarry belt Khrew, Pulwama, for Rs 7.08 lakh (DD No: 433268), Stone quarry belt Buh, Letpora in Sombora, Pulwama for Rs 2.06 lakh (DD No: 433269) and Stone quarry belt Mandekpal in Ladhoo, Pulwama for Rs 5.56 lakh (DD No: 618777 and 618778). The money was deposited on March 28, a day before the tender notice was published in local newspapers.

On March 30, a local contractor, Javed Ahmad Bhat, applied for royalty collection contract in Block No VI (River Jhelum from Niana Bridge to Kadalbal Pampore), but he was told that the block was already allotted to M/S Azam on March 29. Javed filed a case in J&K high court challenging the allotment and the procedures followed.

Interestingly, in 2011, the department of Geology and Mining invited tender bids for royalty collection contract in 76 blocks including three blocks allotted to M/S Azam this year. The minimum reserved bid in 2011-12 for royal collection contract of River Jhelum from Niana Bridge to Kadalbal Pampore was Rs 37.12 lakh for the duration of 9 months.

“How can they give six month contract for just Rs 15.75 lakh when the same blocks earned the department Rs 37 lakh on previous rates,” said an insider who wished anonymity.

“We have not violated any rules while allotting the royalty contract,” Farooq Ahmad Khan, Director of Geology and Mining Kashmir said. “We have advertised the allotment of bids not only once but thrice in last two years but nobody came forward. So we kept the royalty collection contract reserved with the department,” he said.

According to sources, last year around 400 local contractors applied for the royalty collection contracts. “As these block remained un-allotted for two years and there was 50 percent leakage in the revenue, the government allowed us to negotiate with the interested parties,” claimed Khan.

Tariq Ahmad, a Sangam based contractor who used to collect royalty till last year, blames Geology and Mining department for neglecting locals while allotting blocks ‘illegally’ to outsiders. “They have violated all rules. How can they do it when there is so much unemployment in the valley,” he said.

“Any person who is citizen of India can bid in Kashmir. In such cases certificate of allotment (COA) is not required,” said Khan.

“According to government rules, there should be a gap of two weeks between tender notice and submission of bids,” said an official of Geology and Mining department on condition of anonymity. “A tender notice should be published in all local daily newspapers across the state,” he said.

According to sources the allotment should be done block wise as was done previously and anybody can apply. As per the rules, there should be an enhancement of 9 per cent in reserved prices each year which will help generate more revenue. Last year, the royalty rate was Rs 12 per metric ton which was revised this year to Rs 17. “Since we allotted contract, our revenue has gone up four times,” said Director Khan.

Apart from M/S Azam Mining Pvt. Ltd, three locals namely Mohammad Yaqoob Ganie (Khanabal Bridge to Halmullah Islamabad), Mohammad Amin Ganie (Drengi) and Mir Mudassir (Doonipowa, Bragpora, Qazigund and Vesu) were given royalty collection contracts without any official notice or communication.

At present, there are eight cases pending in J&K High Court against Geology and Mining department for illegal allotment of contracts. According to a source in the department, Mattan locality in Islamabad block is missing from the list of areas up for bidding. “The area is allotted to a local illegally by the officials without any paperwork,” said the source.

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