The issue of illegal mining has taken centrestage in Orissa’s politics with the opposition preparing to corner Chief Minister Navin Patnaik on the alleged scam, when the winter session of the state assembly begins on Wednesday.
Even as vigilance officials continue to raid mine operators, the scam — which surfaced in June and allegedly runs into thousands of crores of rupees — is hurting Patnaik’s image of being a clean politician. It has also given common ground to opposition parties — both Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party — to take on the ruling Biju Janata Dal.
In a petition to the Supreme Court, Rabi Das, convenor of the civil society group Jan Sammelani, has alleged that valuable minerals including
iron ore, coal and manganese ore worth Rs 7,000 crore (Rs.70 billion) are being smuggled out of Orissa every year.
After the scandal came to light, the government launched a crackdown on illegal mining in the state in July.
Till October, 644 mining trading licences had been scrutinised. Of these, 482 licences were suspended owing to lack of legal documents.
Orissa Mines Minister Raghunath Mohanty told Hindustan Times: “The government has stopped work in more than 100 mines.”
Anup Kumar Pattnaik, director, state vigilance department, said: “We have found several irregularities in the mines.” So far, 17 cases have been registered against mine operators, including the state-owned Orissa Mining Corporation.
On November 6, the Supreme Court appointed a central-empowered-committee to probe the mining scam and submit a report within six weeks.
Illegal mining can be carried out in three ways. First, if a firm continues mining after the lease has expired; by mining more than what has been sanctioned and finally, through excessive mining beyond the originally earmarked area.
Illegal mining has flourished even as the demand for minerals, especially iron ore, peaked in the world market.
Shockingly, the bureaucracy in the state and the Centre has known about these activities for a long time.
A January 4, 2006 letter from the joint secretary to the Union government to the director of mines, Orissa, expressed concern over numerous renewal mining lease applications pending with the state government.
On September 29, 2003 the deputy director of mines at Joda in Keonjhar district wrote to director of mines, saying that the state-owned Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC) continued mining on 1011 hectares despite expiry of its lease 10 years ago.
Smuggled minerals from Orissa were allegedly bought by industries in the country as well as abroad.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Orissa BJP chief Suresh Pujari.
“We demand a CBI probe into the affair.”
A survey by Jan Sammelani revealed that at least 155 mine operators, including some national steel majors and even the state-owned OMC, continued mining after the expiry of their leases.
A mine operator whose lease-renewal application is pending with the state government can apply to the central government for a temporary mining order, subject to clearance from the Union ministry of forest and environment. Not a single mine operator has applied for it.