September 22, 2015 5:53:29 am
The Union Ministry of Mines had questioned the Rajasthan government’s requests for granting concessions on the maximum mining area to two large private companies, made last year by the state mining department headed by suspended IAS officer Ashok Singhvi.
In a letter written on July 28, the Centre questioned the mining department’s motive behind granting lease to the two companies instead of using the auction route.
The issue concerned granting lease for limestone mines in Jaisalmer, which exceeded the maximum limit of 10 square kilometres allowed under the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act. As reported exclusively by The Indian Express on Monday, the state mining department had sought the Centre’s approval to relax the cap of 10 sq km for the two cement companies (Lafarge India Ltd and Shree Cement Ltd).
The Union ministry specifically raised questions over the relaxation given to the companies at a time when the Centre was mulling amendments to the MMDR act, which would allow granting leases only through the auction route.
“The state government issued priority letter for grant of mineral concession in favour of the applicant on 17.12.2014 during the period when the central government was proposing amendments in the MMDR act for granting mineral concession through auction route. The state government should clarify why they did not think (of) granting mineral concession through auction route, as per the MMDR act 2015, rather than issuing priority letter in favour of the applicant,” said the letter, accessed by The Indian Express.
The ministry also questioned the state government’s decision to suddenly ask for relaxation in December 2014, a month before the MMDR amendment ordinance came into force, when the applicant, Shree Cement, had applied for the same four years ago, in January 2011.
“The applicant had applied… on 10.01.2011 and the state government recommended the instant proposal on 31.12.2014, i.e. approximately after four years,” the letter said.
Such a relaxation can only be approved by the central government. However, on December 17, 2014, the state mining department, headed by Singhvi, issued the relaxation to the two companies without receiving the required approval.
The state Directorate of Mining also noticed the anomaly and flagged it to Singhvi in an internal communication dated March 13, 2015. “(Regarding Lafarge India and Shree Cement), it appears that prior approval, under section 6(1)B, from Government of India was not obtained before issuing Letter of Intent,” Mining Engineer (Inspection) N S Shaktawat had observed.
The Rajasthan mining department is under the spotlight since the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) busted a corruption racket, allegedly run by suspended IAS officer Singhvi, then posted as Principal Secretary (Mines).
Singhvi, along with a middleman and two other officials of the mining department, was arrested by the ACB last week for allegedly accepting a bribe of Rs 2.55 crore. Mining baron Sher Khan and three of his accomplices were also arrested.
On Monday, an anti-corruption court extended the police remand of Singhvi and the other officials by three days, while Sher Khan and his accomplices were sent to judicial custody.
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