Patnaik government faces illegal mining storm again

Patnaik government faces illegal mining storm again

Naveen Patnaik

The BJP raised the issue of alleged illegal mining activities in Keonjhar during the recently-concluded assembly session and later the Congress also joined the issue, demanding a CBI probe.

The state Congress leaders even approached the Centre demanding the Union Mines Ministry's intervention into the alleged multi-crore scam in Orissa. ''A central team is likely to visit Orissa to verify the nature of mining activities and their legal position," OPCC president K P Singhdeo said.

The opposition demand for a CBI probe gained momentum after vigilance director Anup Patnaik admitted that manganese and iron ore worth over Rs 100 crore had been smuggled out of Rudekela and Katasahi mines leased out to RBTL in Keonjhar district.
The state government on its part rejected the opposition demand for CBI probe into the allegation and instead ordered a vigilance inquiry.

But the BJP legislature party leader, K V Singhdeo, questioned the decision, wondering how the state vigilance can probe allegations against the chief minister who is also the home minister.

In 2004, the state government's decision to take Jindal as its partner after rejecting others for exploration of chromite mines at Tangarpada was set aside by the Orissa High Court, prompting the opposition parties to point fingers at Patnaik.

"If exemption is granted to Jindal Strips for 20 years in respect of sales tax, central sales tax, entry tax alone as demanded by them, Central and State governments will lose revenue to the extent of Rs 20,000 crore over a period of 20 years," a division bench comprising the then Chief Justice Surjeet Barman Ray and Justice A S Naidu had said in the verdict.

Meanwhile, eight persons, including seven government officials, were arrested and jailed for their alleged involvement in the mining scam. The vigilance wing, which launched probe into alleged illegal mining in two mines of RBTL in July, this year, extended its investigation into two other mines as more allegations came to the light during the period.

Two more mines were leased out to Arjun Lada company and one to B D Patnaik, vigilance sources said adding that the investigation into the illegal mining activities including explorations in dense forests were yet to be completed.

During its three terms, the Naveen Patnaik government had also faced controversies over mines lease for the South Korean steel major POSCO and Anil Agarwal-owned Vedanta.

Though the state government had recommended POSCO's name for prospecting licence over Khandadhar iron ore mines in Sundargarh district, the matter had gone to Orissa High Court.

The public sector Kudremukh Iron Ore Limited (KIOL) moved the High Court opposing the decision. This apart, the locals and the political parties, mainly BJP, were opposed to mining activities at Khandadhar which was one of the unique tourist destinations in the state. The decision to start bauxite mining on Niyamgiri hills along with Vedanta, had also raised controversies.

The local Dangoria Kondh tribes have taken up the issue in the international forum as Niyamgiri was the source of their livelihood and a unique bio-diversity region. The government, however, remained non-committal all along on startng mining of Niyamgiri to feed Vedanta's alumina refinery at Lanjigarh in Kalahandi district.

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