By Our Correspondent
JODA/BARBIL/BHUBANESWAR: The studied silence of Naveen Patnaik led BJD Government in Odisha over illegal mining activities of RB Das Iron and Manganese Ore Mines under Joda circle of mineral rich Keonjhar district, has raised many eyebrows. With Government extended lease period and mines auction on card by March 31,2010 and lease area extended by 10 square km to 58 square km, RB Das Mines missing no stone unturned to give a final touch to cover up its misdeeds in Keonjhar-Sundargarh regions of Odisha.
The Justice MB Shah Panel in its report, had found large scale irregularities in RB Das Mines, the Panel also recommended strong action against the Mining firm. RB Das holds two leases for mining iron ore and manganese in villages Dalpahar and Kundrupani of district Keonjhar.
Sources said that the Keonjhar DFO has recently written to the RB Das Mines’ authorities apprising them about the grave situations of Kandranila and Suna rivers whose water flow has reduced due to iron-ore excavations and destruction of forests in Joda in Keonjhar.
“The encroachment of an extent of 6.814 ha is admitted for various activities. The area of 0.418 ha for nallah and 0.422 ha for playground is excluded from encroachment. Action should be taken to recover the value of ore after quantification from the pits. All other actions as suggested in this Report should be taken. Encroachment Area (ha.) 6.814 which is 66.45 % of encroachment as against total leased area all types,” Justice Shah had said in its report.
“Due to deforestation in various hills, 80 per cent of streams have gone dry. The water flow in Deogarha’s Padhanpata, Sundargarh’s Khandadhar and Keonjhar’s Sanaghagara and Badaghagara waterfalls has decreased by 50 per cent in last 10 years,” he informed.
“ The Government had earlier admitted that the water-flow in the Padhanpata waterfall at Deogarh had decreased drastically due to destruction of forests. But on the contrary, it showing favour to RB Das mines,” a local activist in Joda said.
Locals in Joda, Barbil areas however expressed concerns over the dwindling of the wild animals and the increasing man-animal conflict in human habitations due to water and fodder scarcity in jungles and hills. “The residents of Joda will suffer acute water scarcity in near future due to illegal mining work of RB Das Mines,”
The leases have been either granted or extended to the RB Das firms for mining iron ores without either any fresh evaluation or adopting the auction process. We sought directions for recovery of market value of the mined minerals in accordance with the law.
Meanwhile, several wildlife and social activists have sought a court-monitored probe into the extension of lease and allotment of the mineral mines for free of cost alleging that it had caused huge financial loss to the public via a concocted conspiracy.
“Within the principle upheld by the Supreme Court in its previous judgement, no natural assets can be allotted/extended free of cost. Impugned extension is contra to the law of the country. No where in the Act, it says to extend the lease free of cost. At least value of extension must be decided as per the maximum rate of auction value by the state or by another state government during these period,” they said.
They argued said that loss caused to the exchequer is liable to be recovered from the mining firms and their leases are liable to be quashed and the mines be put to fresh auction.
They also demand quashing of section 8A of the MMDR (Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act.Section 8-A of the Act provides that all mining lease should be granted for a period of fifty years and on expiry of lease period, it should be put up for auction as per the procedure specified in the Act.
“We suspect that a large amount of political donation has been given by the corporate miner for the impugned provisions (of MMDR Act) for extension of the mining lease as free of cost from escaping auction process which is also a subject matter for CBI investigation and calling list of mines from all states for further action,” they said.
According to official sources , all old lease of the minerals mining, except coal block, has been extended for further 5 to 20 years under the garb of the amendment of 2015 without charging any cost/ premium and fresh value to pay for mining while new mines has been put up for auction which were auctioned for 80 per cent to 110 per cent premium other then royalty .
However, RB Das Mines, who have mining leases in the state’s iron-ore rich Keonjhar districts, have argued against the commission’s report which they claimed have accused them of violating relevant provisions of the Environment Protection Act and extracting minerals without the requisite green clearance.
The quantity of ore that is to be extracted every year specified in the mining plan which is approved by IBM. Forest and environment laws have been violated installing screening plants without statutory clearance. No action has been taken by any of department state and center excess mining of the specified limit violating operating conditions, assessing impact on the local environment, grabbing unauthorised forest land.
94 of the 192 iron ore mining leases in Odisha do not have the mandatory environmental clearances. And of the 96 that have them, 75 have mined far beyond their permitted levels over the past several years, says the Justice M.B. Shah Commission report.
The exhaustive five-volume report lays bare how the mines have continued to use a loophole in the law for years and flagrantly violate environmental and other norms to pump out iron at a time when international prices of the metal are booming.
The report says 56 mining leases operated close to identified wildlife areas without adequate protection to the animals. The mandatory forest clearances had not been obtained in several cases.
Waterbodies in and around 55 mines have been polluted. Water has depleted in natural streams in some cases and forestland impacted adversely in several others. A mining-project within a 10-kilometre vicinity of a protected wildlife area requires mandatory clearance from the National Board of Wildlife, which too was not obtained in several cases.
It has recommended that the entire extraction in all cases, where leases are operated without mandatory environmental clearances, be treated as illegal and the market value — domestic or export — recovered from the defaulting miners.
With no political parties raising the issue of corruption and irregularities in Odisha during the campaigning for the last Lok Sabha polls and Assembly, apprehensions are being raised if culprits will ever be brought to book.Probes into Rs 3 lakh crore mining scam have slowed down in the last couple years, raising doubts about a tacit understanding among the leaders.
The CEC, in its interim report, had revealed that a large number of mines operated in Odisha after the expiry of mining lease period on the provision of deemed extension of mining lease as no decision was taken on application filed by the lease-holders for renewal of the leases.
It found that at least 163 mining leases operated without the requisite approvals under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980; environmental clearances, Air and Water Act or approved mining plans.The CEC also found that out of the 596 mines, as many as 307 mines consisted of either wholly or partly forest areas.
The Odisha government, in its reply furnished to National Mines Tribunal (NMT) in 2013 had admitted the illegalities committing in mining activities and stated that it had slapped Rs 65,000 crore penalty on 196 mine owners who allegedly indulged in illegal and over-extraction of minerals, mainly iron ore.
Challenging the state government’s decision to impose penalty, many mines owners have gone to the court.However, the state government’s lack of seriousness to pursue the case has resulted in a paltry recovery of the penalty.
This apart, company played a key role in Odisha mining scam and violated Mines and Minerals Act, Mines and Minerals Regulation Act of 1957’s section 21. The company involved in illegal mining, theft and transportation. The company has violated pollution control act of 1986, air pollution control act of 1981, water pollution control act of 1974 and forest rights act of 1980.
Companies were supposed to extract mining with clearance of air and water pollution control under various acts like Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 and consent to operate under the Water (PCP) Act, 1974 and Air (PCP) Act, 1981.
The firm has been violating forest and wildlife laws .The Company, which is also creating air and water pollution while defying orders of Odisha State Pollution Control Board and Union Forest and Environment Ministry.
Action should have taken against the company under Forest Conservation Act, 1980 and Odisha Forest Act-1972 and Mines and Minerals Act. But instead , the company got extension to run its closed mines.
Company which operating without valid consent to operate should have been issued closure directions or will be prosecuted as per the provisions in Water (PCP) Act, 1974 and Air(PCP) Act, 1981.
While granting “consent to operate”, it will be ensured that the proponent has obtained all other statutory clearances under Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 and Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.The Company has no respect to labour laws, they said.