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Nov 01, 2012 at 09:33pm IST

Is the Centre shielding the Odisha mining cartel?

Bhubanewar: Iron mines in Odisha escape fines worth hundreds of crores, according to a new report. Odisha's Steel and Mines Secretary has recommended recovery of revenue from excess mining from all 198 mines. Union Mining Ministry has told the Odisha government that states cannot make recovery from mine owners. CNN-IBN had exposed excess mining by 3 major companies - Indrani Patnaik Mines, Sirajuddin Mines and Rungta Mines.

A year ago, a CNN-IBN Investigation had shown how major mines in Odisha that had been chargesheeted for violating mining laws were operating with impunity. Now CNN-IBN finds that the Union Mines Ministry may have tweaked mining laws to ensure that the illegal mining cartel in Odisha does not pay any massive recovery fines.

In 2011, CNN-IBN exposed a decade-long iron ore mining scam in Odisha's Keonjhar district showing how B Prabhakaran, MD of Triveni Earth Movers had illegal control over 10 major iron ore mines in Keonjhar, enjoying political patronage.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik promised stern action. The Justice Shah Commission observed that bureaucrats were involved and the role of politicians needed probing. But a year later the 3 major mines exposed by CNN-IBN - Indrani Patnaik Mines, Sirajuddin Mines and Rungta Mines - are doing business as usual. In fact, all 198 mines that have violated laws have been untouched.

Deepak Mohanty, Director, Mines Dept, Odisha, says, “We took opinion of the Accountant General in this regard and the AG said that those mines which have raised minerals beyond their permissible limit may be fined under 21 (5) of MMDR Act and the recovery made according to the sale price of the minerals by the mine owners.”

Odisha's Steel and Mines Secretary then issued this letter asking his officials to recover the price of excess mining from all 198 mines. But just 3 days later, the Union Ministry of Mines issued this notification, now accessed by CNN IBN, making the following amendment: "Violation of any rules, other than rules under section 23C of the MMDR Act, within the mining lease area by a lease holder, shall NOT include illegal mining."

The mining ministry then wrote to the Odisha government saying that land given under a mining lease cannot be governed by any other of the law of the land. This means the state government cannot make recovery from mine owners who have raised excess minerals illegally.

Many believe that using technicalities to take no action amounts to protecting violators. Biswajit Mohanty, activist and petitioner in the illegal mining cases, says, “They have violated the laws in a big way and the state government should have ideally cancelled their mining lease which they are not doing. Even the cases they are building up are deliberately done in such a way that the violators can easily get a stay from the revision authority.”

The State Vigilance has filed just 6 chargesheets in 3 years, making no big arrest in the scam. The alleged kingpin B Prabhakaran has got anticipatory bail, and officials with vigilance cases against them are back at key posts in the mining department.

Many believe that the only hope left to initiate justice is to hand over this case to the CBI. Several petitions have been filed in the Odisha High Court for CBI enquiry. The order on CBI probe is reserved for the last seventeen months.

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