The Odisha government has received roughly less than half the compensation it had demanded for mining violations in the state for a 10-year period starting 2000. On August 2, the Supreme Court had directed the Odisha government to recover 100 per cent of the revenue generated illegally by mining leaseholders in the state by December 31. The SC direction also said that defaulters will not be permitted to operate their mines from January 1.
Following the order, the Mines department had issued compensation notices to the tune of Rs 17,576 crore to errant mining leaseholders. “The final figures for compensation collected, as of December 31, amounts to Rs 8,223 crore,” said Deepak Mohanty, Director of Mines. “Around 71 or 72 of total 131 leaseholders have already paid [compensation].”
However, a few officials in the Mines department said that lack of clarity in cases where leaseholders have partially paid the compensation owed to the government. “Suppose a company has paid Rs 75 crore out of Rs 100 crore owed to the government, by the SC deadline of December 31. Will their mines be allowed to operate on January 1,” a district-level mining official asked.
“There are seven such cases of non- or partial-payment,” Mohanty said. “There is no scope for them [leaseholders] to request extra time. They can only make that request to the SC.” “The Mines department has written to the Deputy Directors of Mines (DDM) to ensure that errant miners do not continue to operate mines. We will dispatch field officers to enforce the rules,” said Janum Sing Banra, DDM for Koraput Mining Circle.
Officials in Odisha’s Finance department confirmed that the compensation will not come to the state government treasury. Instead, it is deposited in a specific account for the use of Odisha Mineral Bearing Areas Development Corporation (OMBADC). OMBADC is a special purpose vehicle, constituted in 2014 by the state government to specifically develop mineral bearing areas for their local population. The company would develop environment, health, education, among others.
The Odisha government had assessed mining violations within the state on different parameters – violations of environment and forest clearance, mining beyond designated areas, and excess mining within designated areas.
Government officials said that the SC, on December 13, permitted miners to challenge the assessments regarding the violations indicated by the state government only with respect to the last two parameters. Following SC’s permission, these two parameters have moved to the purview of the revision cell of the Union Ministry of Mines, after a challenge from leaseholders.
“The cell has given the petitioners a month’s time. The next hearing is on January 20, so related demands have been stayed till that time,” an official said.