A bench of Orissa high court headed by chief justice V Gopala Gowda on Thursday issued a notice to both the central and state governments in a petition challenging a recent amendment to the Mineral Concession Rules, 1960 by the central government.
The petition, filed by Transparency International India board member Biswajit Mohanty, said the amendment to the MCR, 1960 notified in July, 2012 defined 'illegal mining' in Rule 2.
Mohanty said the definition sought to restrict the ambit of 'illegal mining' to mining operations outside the lease area only.
"The amendment has been brought with a complete alien, malafide and dubious purpose and objective of provide an escape route to errant mining companies who are in gross violation of the Act and the rules framed there under," the petition said, adding that the amendment in Rule 2 had sought to distort the entire existing framework under the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957, MCR, 1960 and the Mineral Conservation and Development Rules, 1988.
The petition by Mohanty assumes significance in view of the state government's decision to slap a penalty of more than Rs. 67,000 crore on 100 mining companies.
While the state government justified its action saying the companies were found violating approved mining plan and raised excess minerals, the Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM) said excess mining inside the lease area might be irregular but not illegal.
According to experts, the new definition of 'illegal mining' may come in the way of collection of penalty amount.
The alleged mining scam, first raised in the assembly in June 2009 by opposition parties, has become a raging controversy in Odisha.
While the state government has handed over the investigation to the state vigilance department, the central government appointed justice MB Shah Commission has been conducting an inquiry into the scam.