IN A snub to the Haryana government, the Supreme Court has said that “influence in high places” was used when the government granted a mining lease worth 115 crore rupees to a company that did not even meet the qualifying criteria for the work. While issuing a closure plan for the mine, the apex court said it would hold the state chief secretary personally responsible for any lapse during the closure.
The issue of the Dadam Village stone mine had reached Supreme Court last month after the Punjab and Haryana High Court, in its June 1 judgment, had upheld the cancellation of permission granted to Sunder Marketing Associates (SMA) to work alone on the mining project with the transfer of project partner Karamjeet Singh and Company Limited (KJSL)’s 51 percent share to the former. SMA had challenged the High Court judgment before the apex court.
A two-judge bench of the Supreme Court has said the SMA was not a qualified bidder for the project by itself and it was only the joint venture between the latter and KJSL that had fulfilled the criteria for the successful bid. “It is this totally illegal transfer carried out within 5 years of the execution of the mining lease that prompted us to believe that the petitioner could exercise influence in high places,” Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta said in the judgment dated August 11.
The apex court bench has termed it “a classic case” of use of influence to violate the law and get a benefit that would ordinarily not be granted to anybody else. “We cannot say with any degree of certainly how high is the reach of the petitioner but it is quite apparent from the facts of the case, that the reach is pretty high,” the double bench said.
The case dates back to 2015 when the government initially had allowed the transfer of 51 percent shares of KJSL to SMA after the former sought to cancel the contract with the government.
SMA later in a letter to the state Chief Minister said they want to continue operate the mine even if their partner intends to surrender their share. Following the proposal and an opinion from the State’s Advocate General that “over all interest of the State warranted continuation of the contract by the bidders”, the government approved the transfer of share and in August 2015 signed an agreement with SMA. The permission was later withdrawn by the authorities apparently because of a plea against it by some people in the High Court.
Laying out a closure plan for the mine on land measuring 59.60 hectares , Supreme Court has allowed the SMA to continue the mining operations till November 30 to allow it to wind up its activities and put the closure plan into operation. The company has been asked to clear all its dues including of the employees and labourers and has been restrained from transferring any mine operation related property to ensure there is no difficulty in recovery of such dues.
“All the laws applicable to the petitioner shall be strictly enforced by the State Government regardless of its apparent influence in High places. We make it clear that we will hold the Chief Secretary of the state of Haryana responsible for any lapse in this regard,” the SC bench has said in the judgment.
High Court Chief Justice S. J. Vazifdar and Justice Anupinder Singh Grewal while upholding the cancellation of the permission granted to the company to go alone in the mining project had asked the government to complete the fresh tender process by August 31. The High Court bench had observed that the decision making process of the government in the case was “flawed” and contrary to the law.
The apex court bench in the judgment has said, “High Court dealt with every submission raised by learned counsel for the petitioner in a lucid and well reasoned judgment. We really have nothing to add to the decision rendered by the High Court.”