Group President, Group Managing Director & Editor In Chief: Dr.Shelly Ahmed

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Exclusive: Veiling The 1,800 Cr Mining Scam In Odisha Govt.

By Sandeep Sahu / Bhubaneshwar

Just when the Naveen Patnaik government in Odisha thought it had weathered the storm over the organised, systematic and sustained loot of mineral resources (primarily iron ore) over a period of nine years from 2000 (when it came to power) comes news of yet another case of massive illegal mining worth at least Rs 1,800 crore.

The illegal mining in the Uliburu iron ore mines under the Joda mining division in the iron ore rich Keonjhar district of the state is different from other cases in one respect.
Unlike in the other cases, there have been at least three inquiries by officials of the district administration and the mines and forest departments, which have clearly established flagrant violation of all rules governing excavation of minerals in this case. But for reasons that are not too difficult to guess, no action has been taken either against M/S BK Mohanty & Co, the original lessee, or Deepak Kumar Gupta, to whom the former gave a power of attorney (PA) to operate the mine in clear violation of Rule 37 of the Mineral Concession Rules, 1960.

First, the deputy director of mines (DDM), Joda, following an inquiry ordered by the Keonjhar Collector, served a show cause notice to BK Mohanty and Deepak Gupta for illegally raising 40, 24, 400 metric tons (MTs) of iron ore and 610 MT of manganese between 2004 and 2007 without consent to operate from the Odisha State Pollution Control Board and environmental clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), violating Rule 37 of the Mineral Concession Rules (MMR), 1960, by engaging Deepak Gupta as raising contractor and working of pits and dumping overburden (OB) outside the leasehold area.

Second, a joint inspection by officials of the forest, mining and revenue departments in June, 2012, found that the lessee had carried out massive illegal mining in an area spread over 35.51 hectares, including 6.18 ha of the Uliburu Reserve Forests (RF), outside the leasehold area. And finally, during an inspection on 20 March this year, the State Level Enforcement Squad (SLES) found that the pillars demarcating the Uliburu Reserve Forest had been shifted by the company to facilitate excavation within the RF. 

Interestingly, the entire area where illegal mining operations took place was outside the 56.94 hectares originally given to the lessee and covered, besides the Uliburu RF, the leasehold area of another miner Jagdish Mishra and some revenue land. The SLES asked the DDM, Joda, to seize and auction minerals worth nearly Rs 100 crore, consisting of 1, 07, 191 MT of iron ore lumps, 99, 412 MT of iron ore (size) and 67, 150 MT of iron ore fines, found at the site by it. But the DDM could not care less.

Not satisfied with these three inquiries by its own agencies, which established beyond any shred of doubt that Deepak Gupta, the PA holder, had been carrying out illegal mining for close to a decade, the Odisha government has now ordered a vigilance inquiry into it after the scandal came to light. The vigilance inquiry has predictably led to scepticism all round. “By handing over the probe to the vigilance, the Naveen Patnaik government is attempting yet another cover up, just as it has done in all previous cases of mining theft,” says Biswajit Mohanty, Board member of Transparency International India and a wildlife activist. “May be they will follow it up with a Crime Branch inquiry and then a judicial inquiry,” says a sarcastic Subhransu Panda, the journalist who broke the story.

The cynicism is entirely understandable. After all, the vigilance department has been at it since 2009, when the scam became public, without being able to book a single miner or official for a mining scam that is arguably the biggest in the country – dwarfing similar scams in Jharkhand, Karnataka and Goa. If the government had any intention of taking action against the culprit, it did not need a fresh inquiry at least in this case, the sceptics point out.

The Uliburu mining scam has been a saga of blatant violation of every single rule, in obvious connivance with officials of the various relevant departments, since the beginning. First, the original lessee BK Mohanty, who was given a 20-year mining lease over an area of 56.94 ha, to extract iron ore, manganese and quartzite on 13 December 1983, applied for renewal of mining licence (RML) on 3 December 2003 – barely 10 days before the expiry of the lease period whereas Rule 24 A (1) of the Mineral Concession Rules, 1960 stipulates that such application has to be filed at least one year before the expiry of the lease period. Though the company did file an application seeking condoning of the delay, the state government rejected its appeal. 

The mines department’s decision to allow mining under the ‘deemed extension’ provision of Rule 24 A (6) thus constitutes a clear violation of Section 4 (1) of the MMDR Act and is patently illegal. Secondly, the PA holder was allowed to carry out mining without the mandatory Mining Plan approved by the Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM). Last but not the least, in altering the boundary of a Reserve Forest and quarrying minerals inside an RF area, the PA holder violated the provisions of Odisha Forest Act, 1972.

It goes without saying that all these violations could not have gone on for so long without the active connivance of officials. The then DDM of Joda, the prime suspect in the case who has now been shifted to the State Directorate of Mines, resorted to a blatant lie when he certified to the Keonjhar Collector on 8 August 2012, that the lessee had applied for renewal of mining license on 3 December2002—as required under the law—and not on 3 December 2003, when it was actually filed. The same DDM also concealed the fact that there was massive illegal mining by Gupta about which he was fully aware by then. 

Similarly, the Senior Inspector of Mines falsely certified that the ores had been raised from the mining lease (ML) area as per provisions of Rule 10 (6) of Odisha Mining Rules, 2007 and Transit Pass Regulations, 1973, though it was actually raised from outside the lease area. On its part, the Forest department officials were content to just file a case and then forget all about it despite massive illegal mining inside a reserve forest.

Forest Minister Bijayshree Routray would like the people to believe that the officials did all this on their own and the chief minister, who was also the Forest minister for the better part of the period when the plunder was on, was in no way responsible. But there are not many takers for his version, especially after the ordering of the vigilance inquiry, which they know would not yield anything.
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