Keonjhar: Another Illegal mining scam, this time in Orissa's Keonhjar district, has been unearthed. With an estimated worth of Rs 3 lakh crore, it could dwarf the Bellary mining scam.
The Sirajuddin Mines, Rungta Mines and the Indrani Patnaik Mines are three of the five companies chargesheeted by Orissa's Vigilance Dept for illegal mining. They are also among the 243 mines where work was suspended after an uproar in the Orissa Assembly in 2009.
But has illegal mining actually stopped? CNN-IBN travelled to these top three mines to investigate.
At the Sirajuddin Mines at Balda, truckloads of illegally mined iron ore emerged from the main gates. The loot goes on 24X7 - even at night trucks leave loaded with illegally mined ore.
At the Indrani Patnaik mines at Unchabali, illegal mining have been taking place at a grand scale.
At the Rungta mines at Jajang, even more illegal mining have been traced.
According to the state vigilance chargesheet, illegal iron ore mining at the three mines alone has caused a loss of a staggering Rs 2,352 crore to the state exchequer.
"We have issued show cause notice to these mines owners and have seized their equipments and have told them to stop work immediately till the investigation is complete. It's now for the mines dept to ensure that they do not operate. If they still operate, it's illegal," said Anup Patnaik, Director, Vigilance, Orissa.
It is estimated that till date, illegally mined iron ore worth Rs 3 lakh crore rupees has made it in thousands of trucks to Orissa's Paradeep port to feed the industrial boom in China.
Each ton of ore fetches the mining company Rs 8,000. The government's measly royalty of Rs 26 per ton was set when prices were just Rs 1,200 per ton. Yet the state mines department prefers to defend the chargesheeted mine owners.
"The minerals are accounted for as royalty are paid, so it is not illegal in that sense. It's a violation of technical norm that they have done. We have asked Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM) to tell us what to do in these matters," said Manoj Ahuja, secretary, steel and mines, Orissa.
Last year the Indian Bureau of Mines did issue a show cause notice to these mines but took no further action. Only 13 minor officials have been arrested so far and not a single big fish has been touched. While the illegal mining, as CNN-IBN found out, simply goes on.
In April this year the Orissa High Court finished its hearing on the demand for CBI enquiry in the mining scam. The verdict is kept reserved. Many believe that only an independent, impartial enquiry can actually expose the alleged nexus between politicians, bureaucrats and mine owners.