Illegal mining scam rocks Odisha

The demand for a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the irregularities in the mining sector in Odisha has gained momentum following the state government’s recent decision to impose penalty on mine owners who have been indulging in excess mining beyond their approved plan.

The Congress, the principal opposition party in the state, was the first to demand an investigation by the CBI. The state unit of the BJP, the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD)’s erstwhile ally in Odisha, has followed suit.

The state government has decided to impose a huge penalty of Rs 67,900 crore on as many as 103 mine owners who include many heavyweights in the industry. According to the opposition parties, by imposing penalty, the state government has admitted that there have been irregularities in mining activities and these could not have been possible without the support and backing of senior state government officials and ruling party leaders. Therefore, there is an urgent need for a CBI probe into the matter.

Concrete evidence

A section of the Congress has also demanded the resignation of chief minister Naveen Patnaik accusing him of colluding with the mine owners in these irregularities though they have not been able to produce any concrete evidence in support of their allegation.

The BJD has rejected the Congress and BJP’s demand for a CBI probe as well as its allegations that ruling party leaders including the chief minister were involved in the irregularities. Its leaders insist that there was no need for an investigation by the central agency as two separate probes into the matter are already on—one by the state vigilance department and another by the M B Shah commission which has been assigned the job of looking into the irregularities in the mining sector in all the mineral rich states in the country.

“The Congress and BJP leaders should have some patience. At least they should wait till the Shah commission makes its report on Odisha public. The commission’s investigations on Odisha are in its last stages,” said a senior BJD leader, adding that the opposition should also have some respect for the judiciary and wait for the verdict of the Orissa high court on the issue. A public interest litigation demanding a CBI probe into the illegal mining activities in the state is pending before the high court.

The BJD leaders say that it is the state government which identified the illegal act of the mine owners and imposed a huge penalty which had never been done in any other state before. Therefore, it would be wrong to presume that irregularities were going on with the blessings of the ruling party. The state government’s unprecedented move to collect fines from the mine owners, however, has thrown up several unanswered questions. And the foremost among them is why it took so long for the government to initiate action against the miners.

The state steel and mines minister R K Singh has gone on record saying that monitoring the mining plans of the miners is the responsibility of the Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM), an arm of the ministry of mining at the Centre. The state government stepped in only when the IBM did not respond to its repeated alerts on the excess mining by the mine owners.

But the critics ask as to why the state government allowed the mining to continue if it knew that illegal, excess mining was going on. strangely, the state-run Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC) also figures prominently in the list of mine owners who have been imposed penalty for excess mining. The state PSU has been fined more than Rs 2,000 crore. Moreover, questions are being asked about the government collecting royalty on the extra minerals that had been mined by the mining companies in excess to approved plans and also issuing transit passes for transportation of these additionally mined minerals.

These questions have been raised by the IBM which has strongly refuted the charges made against it by the state government. But the IBM too is not above suspicion as one of its state based officials has already made a controversial statement saying that excess mining is not an illegal act. Many independent observers are of the view that the actual picture of irregularities in the mining sector in Odisha would come to the fore only when the Shah commission submits its report.

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