September 23, 2015 12:58:18 am
Rajasthan’s suspended mining secretary Ashok Singhvi, who was arrested for allegedly running a massive bribery racket, was instrumental in throwing open the state’s gypsum reserves — the largest in the country — to indiscriminate mining.
According to documents accessed by The Indian Express, the mines department headed by Singhvi threw open over 2,800 hectares of gypsum mines without either inviting applications or notifying specific mining zones, in clear violation of the Centre’s October 30, 2014, guidelines.
Further, several of these leases were granted on January 12, just a day before the central government promulgated the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) (Amendment) Ordinance, 2015, which ended discretionary bases of awarding leases and made auction the sole method of allotment.
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Last year, on August 17, the mines department headed by Singhvi de-reserved gypsum mining in Rajasthan, ending the exclusive gypsum mining rights enjoyed by state-owned Rajasthan Mines and Minerals Ltd (RSMM).
This led to a free-for-all, with the mines department granting leases for over 2,828 hectares of gypsum mines across Rajasthan —- without either inviting applications or notifying specific mining areas.
This was in direct violation of the October 30, 2014, guidelines of the central government which mandated notifying specific mining zones and returned all applications received from state governments for approving leases in non-notified areas.
The guidelines, issued in order to curb illegal mining following the M B Shah Commission report and various Supreme Court judgments including on 2G, intended to accord greater transparency in use of scarce natural resources.
However, documents show that the Rajasthan mines department granted 15 of the gypsum mining leases against applications dated much before August 17, 2014, when gypsum mining was the exclusive right of RSMM and no applications for its mining could have been entertained from anyone else. Some applications dated as far back as May 8, 2012, more than three years before gypsum was de-reserved for mining by private companies.
This could only mean one thing —- leases were granted to favourites on back-dated applications so they could qualify on “first come, first served” basis.
The entire process was shrouded in secrecy and leases were hurriedly awarded on first-come-first-served basis to avoid running into the new MMDR ordinance, which came in to effect on January 13 and mandated the auction route for granting leases.
Ten gypsum mining leases were granted on January 12, 2015, a day before the ordinance came into effect.
About 90 per cent of India’s gypsum comes from western and north-western Rajasthan. The total gypsum reserves in the state are estimated to be 1013.07 million tonnes.
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