Justice Shah Pulls Up Odisha Govt for Keeping Mines Idle
Pulling up Odisha government for not regular verifying forest and environment clearance of mining lessees, the Justice M B Shah Commission today sought an explanation from state-owned Odisha Mining Corporation for keeping a number of mines idle.
"What is the point in giving more mines to the state PSU if it fails to operate and explore them?" Justice Shah asked the OMC during its fourth hearing here.
Though OMC held the lease of over 21 iron and manganese mines, only five were operational.
The commission, investigating illegal mining in Odisha and other states, also said that OMC had violated Rule 37 of the Mineral Concession (rpt) Concession Rules.
The state PSU was asked to appear before the commission at its headquarters in Ahmedabad to explain its stand on the Rule-37.
Justice Shah also pulled up the OMC for engaging contractors for certain work in operating mines.
OMC chairman-cum-managing director Saswat Mishra told the commission that some jobs were outsourced due to breakage of a conveyor belt and some other machinery.
On keeping mines idle, Mishra said "We could not prospect certain mines due to lack of forest clearance.
"As the forest ministry restricted the number of borewell digging, the OMC could not access the mineral deposited in its area," he said.
"We requested the commission to direct the Centre to allow required number of borewell diggings to ascertain the volume of ore in a particular area," he said.
Defending OMC keeping certain mines idle, Mishra said the majority of the idle mines had a small amount of ore.
"We provided watch and ward staff in those mines. If OMC surrendered these small patches, there will be loot of ore," he said citing instance of the central PSU Mahanadi Coalfield not utilising about 50 per cent of the area allocated to it.
Like other private lessees, OMC also sought re-verification of its mines claiming that the DGPS survey was not properly done.
"We are ready to pay Rs 4 lakh per verification of per square kilometer of mine area," Mishra said.
Odisha government lawyer U U Lalit drew attention to six different issues and blamed lack of support from the central government to streamline mining in the state.
"This is unfortunate that Centre ignores all the good efforts put in by the state government," Lalit said.
Lalit submitted copies of letters written by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to the Centre on its demand for ban on export of iron ore, the Centre's reluctance to raise royalty during boom, cap on ore production, modification of licensing, reservation of mining area for state use and policy on renewal of mine lease.
"The state government should control mining activities by verifying whether the lessees obtained FC, EC and exceeded production target," Justice Shah told reporters, adding the state government's main concern was conservation of minerals and ban on export of iron ore.
Deposing before the commission, Congress leader and editor of a local daily S R Patnaik drew attention to alleged illegal mining in a no-lease area in Joda and Koira mining circles.
"Of the 700 square kilometer, mining lease has been given over 400 square kilometer while about 300 sq km is left for smugglers to loot the mineral wealth," Patnaik said.
Based on Patnaik's allegation, Justice Shah asked the state government to look into the allegation.
The Commission decided to complete physical verification of mine boundaries by the specially formed committee within 45 days and the hearing by April 5, a commission official said.
Meanwhile, members of the local Odisha Nagarika Samaj, demonstrated near the venue of the hearing demanding early completion of investigation and arrest of the culprits.
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