In A First, Outside Companies Earn 100 Percent Mining Rights In Kashmir 

Athar Parvaiz

SRINAGAR – As mineral blocks in River Jhelum and its tributaries in all the 10 districts of Kashmir valley have been opened for non resident bidders, are for the first time, bidders from outside Kashmir have earned 100 percent sand mining (and other minerals) rights in Srinagar and Budgam districts, over 60 percent rights in Pulwama and 67 percent in Baramullah (so far).

Bidding for other districts is yet to be started.

This year, the bidding for mining of mineral blocks in Kashmir’s rivers and streams was opened for bidders from outside Jammu & Kashmir following abrogation of Article 370 under which no outside company was able to operate in Jammu and Kashmir unless the government desired so, through lease agreements.

The applications for competing for the mining rights were invited electronically and the aspirants had to fill up and submit forms online at a time when internet was not available in Kashmir (in December and first three weeks of January). Internet connectivity in Kashmir remains very week following the government’s decision to restore 2G mobile data only on post-paid mobile numbers.

List of successful bidders in Srinagar

Nonetheless, many local contractors have managed to submit the forms at the internet touch points set up by the government while some preferred moving to places outside the valley (to avoid the crowds at internet touch points in Kashmir) for submitting applications online, sources said.

But, the contractors said, they could not compete with the companies from outside Kashmir. Official data accessed by Kashmir Observer shows that most of the mining contracts have gone to companies from outside Kashmir. For example in Srinagar district, all the 10 blocks went to the companies from outside Kashmir (table attached) against a bidding amount of five crore rupees as also all the five blocks of Budgam against a bidding amount of 1800,000.

In Pulwama, local contractors have managed to successfully bid for 40 percent of the blocks even as 60 percent of the blocks have gone to companies from outside Kashmir with total bidding amount of 48 crore rupees. In Baramullah, out of the 35 blocks, 28 blocks have been auctioned so far out of which 19 have gone to companies from outside Kashmir against a bidding amount of 19 crores.

Locals who exclusively used to do sand mining and mining of other minerals in River Jhelum and its tributaries, said that they were not allowed a level playing field during the application process. “That the entire process of auctioning of the mineral blocks in Kashmir was ill-intentioned right from the beginning, can be gauged from the fact that Kashmir-based contractors had to apply online when there was no internet in Kashmir,” said a contractor from Srinagar who did not wish to be named.

He said that the auction notice for auctioning of 10 mineral blocks in Srinagar was published on December 21 when there was not even 2G internet [mobile data] available here in Kashmir. “The government told us that we can fill up and submit the forms at the government’s internet facilitation centers, but they were too crowded. So, I decided to go to Delhi for submitting the form. But I was so unlucky that I had forgottenan important document at home due to which my application got rejected,” said Kashmiri contractor.

So far, the mining rights were exclusively with the Kashmir- based contractors and all the livelihood opportunities from exploitation of resources from Kashmir’s commons were being availed by the locals.  For example, figures available at Kashmir’s Geology and mining department suggest that sand worth somewhere around 250 million rupees used to be extracted from Kashmir’s water bodies by locals, particularly from River Jhelum and its tributaries, through organized and unorganized sectors in a calendar year.

Even when sand mining and mining of other minerals was done by Kashmiri contractors, there were always environmental costs associated with the mining. A lot of scientific research has shown that mining in rivers has environmental and other consequences.

According to the research published on the website of Centre of Mining Environment, Indian Institute of Technology (ISM), Dhanbad, the large-scale extraction of streambed materials, mining and dredging below the existing streambed, and the alteration of channel-bed form and shape leads to several impacts such as erosion of channel bed and banks, increase in channel slope, and change in channel morphology.

“These impacts may cause: (1) the undercutting and collapse of river banks, (2) the loss of adjacent land and/or structures, (3) upstream erosion as a result of an increase in channel slope and changes in flow velocity, and (4) downstream erosion due to increased carrying capacity of the stream, downstream changes in patterns of deposition, and changes in channel bed and habitat type,” it says.

Now that close to 300 blocks are being formally thrown open for mining of minerals in Kashmir, there are apprehensions that large scale mining for sand and other minerals from River Jhelum and its tributaries can lead to severe environmental consequences. “When you mine intensively in Jhelum and its tributaries, it is certainly going to leave an impact on local ecology as also on flood management in Kashmir,” said an engineer in Irrigation and Flood Control Department on the condition of anonymity. “For example, when massive exploitation of minerals is done in tributaries of Jhelum, it will increase the velocity of river flow, which, in turn, can result in instant flooding and over siltation in our water bodies such as Wular,” he said.

However, the joint director of Geology and Mining Department, Imtiyaz Ahmad Khan,  said that these concerns will be taken into consideration when the permission for starting the work is granted to the successful bidders. “The process is yet to complete. We will take all the environmental concerns into consideration,’ Khan said.

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