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Orissa shuts down 64 mines,probes racket

Operators failed to prove activity legal,leases ran out long ago,says state mines director....

Written by Debabrata Mohanty | Bhubaneswar |
November 12, 2009 4:06:58 am

Probing allegations of a multi-crore mining scandal,the Orissa government has ordered suspension of work at 64 iron ore,manganese ore and limestone mines whose operators have failed to provide proof of legal mining activity.

It is learnt that leases of all these mines ran out long ago but they continued to operate without approval,authorisation or execution of any lease deed subsequently.

Director of Mines Jyoti Ranjan Patnaik said the steel and mines department issued orders last month to deputy directors of mines to verify documents of all lease holders under deemed extension. More than 600 mines operators were issued notices and told to submit documents.

“We suspended operations of these mines as they had not submitted documents. These operators were mining the area though their leases had expired and they did not have necessary clearance from the Union Ministry for Environment and Forests,” Patnaik said.

Of the 64 mines where suspension of work has been ordered,25 are in the Joda area of Keonjhar district. Besides,the state steel and mines department cancelled 482 of 2,412 licences for trading of ores,citing reasons of theft and smuggling.

In July this year,a mining scandal came to light in Keonjhar district after it was found that one Shakti Ranjan Das was mining manganese ore on behalf of Ram Bahadur Thakur Limited in two mines at Rudukela and Katasahi of Keonjhar district though no mining lease had been granted.

The government ordered a probe by the Vigilance department which found that the money involved ran into crores — it was estimated to be around Rs 110 crore.

The Vigilance department’s

preliminary probe revealed that at least 53,000 tonnes of manganese ore had been lifted,allegedly with the complicity of several government officials.

Incidentally,the order for suspension of work at the mines came after journalist and social activist Rabi Das filed a petition in the Supreme Court last week,seeking an exhaustive probe by the Centrally Empowered Committee into illegal mining in Keonjhar,Sundargarh and other districts of Orissa.

Das alleged that illegal mining activity had been going on for a long time in Keonjhar and Sundargarh districts with the patronage and connivance of state government functionaries. The estimated value of transactions relating to the plunder of mineral resources was over Rs 7,000 crore per year,he alleged.

“The large-scale plunder of national wealth has enriched and has further robustly strengthened an entirely corrupt system which is well entrenched and all-pervasive. From the year 2000,no renewal of mining leases has been decided upon though mining is going on in these areas. Despite the Centre’s repeated instructions to the state government that such activities are not permissible under law and are to be forthwith stopped,no action has been taken,” Das stated in his petition.

The Supreme Court bench of Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan,Justice S H Kapadia and Justice Aftab Alam,in response to the petition,instructed its Centrally Empowered Committee to investigate the alleged violation of forest Acts and submit a report within six weeks.

Government sources said the suspension of mining in 65 mines was “just the tip of an iceberg” as almost all holders of mining leases executed prior to 1980 are still continuing to operate the mines after the lapse of leases. Extraction has been continuing illegally at rates substantially higher than what was approved under the mining plan when the lease deeds were subsisting. Mandatory stipulations in the Forest Conservation Act,1980 and the Mines and Minerals Development and Regulation Act,1957 were being violated,the sources said.

Though no renewal of mining leases executed prior to 1980 can be ordered by the state government at its own level,the lessees and officials find a way out by turning to the so-called deemed extension under the Mineral Concession Rules,1960.

A team of the Vigilance department has searched the mines and offices of leading mines-owner and exporter M Serajuddin at Joda in Keonjhar,Bhubaneswar and Kolkata. Officials searched two mines at Balada and Guruda under the Joda mining area. They also searched Serajuddin’s residence and his three offices — Alija Mines,Alija International near Raj Bhavan and Serajuddin Accounts in Bhubaneswar and Kolkata.

Last month,the Vigilance department searched Rungta Mines,Essel Mines,Arjun Lodha mines,B D Patnaik and Unchapbali mines in Keonjhar district and B K Das Mines and B C Dagra Mines in Mayurbhanj district.

Vigilance Director Anup Patnaik said his teams were yet to sit down and assess the magnitude of the scam as details were still being compiled. “During our investigation,we found that some mining companies faked the quality of the ores,under-reported the quantity of ores mined and transported through checkgates,” he said.

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