In December last year, days before an inquiry commission headed by justice M B Shah was slated to visit Koira and Joda mining circles in northern Odisha, piles of documents were burnt in the office of deputy director of mines in Koira. In November this year, just days before the commission’s third visit, the Odisha government slapped a fine of Rs 65,493 crore on 104 mine lessees for extracting more than the permitted quantity of iron ore, manganese and chromite between 2000 and 2010 (see ‘Who’s who among offenders’). The commission was set up by the Centre in 2010 to probe illegal mining across India. It is expected to submit its report on Odisha by December end.
At present, of the 600 leases in the state, 388 have been either suspended or temporarily discontinued. The state environment minister recently told the Assembly that 111 mines have been listed for violating Environment Protection and Forest Conservation Acts. In October, the state government notified that second and subsequent renewal of mining leases will be restricted to captive users, that is, lessees without any industry of their own will not be eligible.
The Rs 65,493 crore fine has been recorded as royalty for overextraction and transit passes (given by the state to vehicles carrying minerals out of mines) issued. “But what about the mining beyond leasehold areas which include forestland?” asks Union minister and Congress MP from Odisha Srikant Kumar Jena who says the total loss from illegal mining in the state is Rs 4 lakh crore. Accusing the Odisha government of hoodwinking people, Jena says, “It has imposed the fine on mine lessees to put a brave face in front of the Shah Commission.”
The decade beginning 2000 witnessed a boom in iron ore prices. To reap benefits, miners in Sundargarh and Keonjhar districts, which include Koira and Joda circles, started mining in excess of the limit approved by the Indian Bureau of Mines. They stretched operations beyond their lease areas and continued extracting even after their leases had expired. Mining was done without acquiring mandatory environment and forest clearances or the “consent to establish” from the state pollution control board.
Read more: http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/decade-loot