April 28, 2010 11:25:12 am
In a clear damnation of the Orissa government,the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) of the Supreme Court hearing into the allegation of forest law violations in multi-crore mining scam in the State,has said that mining activities were going on in a large number of the mines in Orissa without the requisite approvals under the Forest (Conservation) Act,1980,Environmental Clearances,and the Air & Water Acts. The mining activities also exceeded the production limit as approved under the Mining Plans.
In December last year,senior journalist Rabi Das had filed a case before the CEC regarding the alleged Illegal mining in the lapsed/invalid mining leases/areas in Orissa seeking appointment of a Commission to investigate and study the modalities of the illegal machinations,fix responsibility on individuals (in Government and outside it) and recommendation of remedial measures. The state has so far granted 596 mining leases for extraction of different kinds of minerals. Of this,341 mines are operating while the remaining 255 are non working/lapsed mines.
The interim report prepared by CEC member MK Jiwrajka on April 26,also said that a large number of the mines have remained operational for long periods of time after the expiry of the lease period because of the delays in taking decisions on the renewal applications filed by the respective mining lease holders and consequently the mines becoming eligible for deemed extension as provided under Rule 24 A(6),MCR,1960. The CEC said that as many as 215 mines were operative for 10 to 20 years on deemed renewal status.
The major findings of the CEC are:
* In a large number of cases the forest areas approved under the FC Act are lesser than the total forest area included in the approved mining leases.
* There was lack of effective coordination and common understanding between the officials of the Mines Department and the Forest Department resulting in the ineffective enforcement of the statutory provisions.
* The deemed extension clause is primarily meant to deal with contingency situation and to ensuring that the mining operations do not come to an abrupt end because of administrative delays in deciding on the renewal applications. This provision is not meant to be availed of indefinitely. Moreover,continuing mining over a long period of time without renewal of the mining lease becomes a potential source for serious illegalities and irregularities.
* Nine coal mines,belonging to the Mahanadi Coal Field Ltd,a subsidiary of the Coal India Ltd.(CIL),operating without obtaining the approval under the FC Act on the purported ground that the mining leases have been transferred to them by the CIL during 1990-92 after the promulgation of the Coal India (Regulation,Transfer and Validation) Act,2002.
The provisions of the Forest (Conservation) Act are equally applicable to such forest areas and are required to be complied with. All the other similarly placed coal companies,such as the WCL and the SECL have at the time of the renewals/new mining leases been obtaining the approvals under the FC Act. It is therefore imperative that in respect of these nine leases also,the approvals under the FC Act are obtained by the Mahanadi Coal Fields Limited after following the prescribed procedure. It is recommended that,as was earlier permitted in the case of WCL,SECL and the other coal companies,subject to the payment of the NPV for the forest land included in these nine mining leases,the Mahanadi Coal Fields may be allowed to continue mining for the next 1 year during which period they should obtain approval under the FC Act and failing which the mines should be closed; and
The committee recommended that the applications filed for the renewal of the mining leases are decided by the State of Orissa in a time-bound manner. The concerned lessee should be required to provide to the State Government ,within a reasonable period,copies of the approvals under the FC Act,Environmental Clearances,No objection of the State Pollution Control Board under the Air and Water Acts and the Mining Plan duly approved by the Indian Bureau of Mines/other competent authority. This will ensure that the mining operations under the deemed extension clause do not continue for an indefinite period. In respect of the mining leases for which the renewal applications are pending with the State Government,the status and the reasons for the pendency for each of the mining leases (as at present) should be provided by the State Government;
The CEC in its report also recommended that all the mining lease holders in Orissa should be directed to pay the NPV for the entire forest area,included in the mining leases. It said demand for the payment of the NPV should be raised by the Divisional Forest Officer concerned within a maximum period of 30 days and the mining lease holder should deposit the amount payable towards the NPV (for the balance forest area) within a period of 30 days thereafter failing which the mine should not be allowed to continue its operations.
In Orissa,substantial areas included in the mining leases as non forest land have subsequently been identified as DLC forest (deemed forest / forest like areas) by the Expert Committee constituted by the State Government pursuant to the SC order dated 12.12.1996. While processing and/or approving the proposals under the FC Act in many cases such areas have been treated as non-forest land. The CEC recommended that the NPV for the entire DLC area included in the mining lease,after deducting the NPV already paid,should be deposited by the concerned lease holder.
Expressing partial satisfaction with the steps taken by the State,the CEC noted that “serious shortcomings still remain which need to be dealt with on priority so as to ensure the strict compliance of the provisions of the Forest (Conservation) Act,1980,the Environmental Protection Act and the other statutory provisions and Rules.”
The next hearing of the case would be taken up on May 7.
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