Orissa mine scam could be worth more than Rs 14k cr

While Orissa vigilance sleuths and mines department officials are scratching their heads trying to find out the extent and dimensions of the mining scam, official documents reveal that the magnitude of the scam could be anything over Rs 14000 crore.

The Central Empowered Committee of the Supreme Court headed by former bureaucrat PV Jayakrishnan would soon start investigating the violation of forest laws following a petition by Orissa-based journalist Rabi Das.

However, CEC chairman Jayakrishnan said the panel has not got the formal notification of the probe order as yet. “We will decide about the modalities of the probe and the dates after we see the notification,” he told The Indian Express.

But the fact is that the scam goes beyond violation of forest laws only. Evidence available with The Indian Express shows the real scam was mining in excess of the limits set by the authorities. This violated the existing environmental laws.

Documents brought under the RTI Act showed that over last 6-7 years more than dozen leading mining and steel companies dug out excessive quantities of iron, chromite and manganese ores in wanton disregard of existing laws and limits. It’s no secret they could do it due to lax supervision of officials of the Orissa Pollution Control Board, Indian Bureau of Mines, state mines department, forest department, district collector and Ministry of Environment and Forests.

Any mining company before digging up even a handful of earth in the ore-rich areas has to obtain a Consent to Operate (CTO) certificate from the Orissa Pollution Control Board which stipulates the amount of ore that can be mined in a year. The limit is specified with an eye on collateral environmental damage that mining brings as the waste and overburden (the earth that needs to be excavated for extracting the ore) is normally 3-5 times of the actual mineral.

When environmental clearance is granted to any mine, the maximum amount of ore which can be mined per year is specified. The quantity of ore that is to be extracted every year is specified in the mining plan which is approved by the IBM. Accordingly, when the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) study is carried out the likely impacts on the local environment are assessed based on the quantity of ore to be extracted every year.

Documents obtained from the Orissa Pollution Control Board and interviews with officials in the State mining department show that the biggest violator could be Aditya Birla Group-owned Essel Mining and Industries Limited. Between 2001-02 and 2005-06, the company mined 206 lakh tonnes of iron ore in excess of its permitted limit of 25.86 lakh tonnes in just 2 mines(Kasia and Jiling-Longalata) of Keonjhar district. By conservative estimates, the total amount of the excess iron ore mined was Rs 4269 crores.

Essel Mining seemed to care two hoots about possible closure of the mines for violation of the OPCB norms. Though a closure notice was issued by the OPCB’s regional office in Keonjhar district on January 24, 2006 for violating the conditions and running two screening plants inside the forest area without mandatory environmental clearance, it did not shut shop. The OPCB also did not press further and did not close the mines.

Ardhendu Mohapatra, the chief residential manager of Essel Mining in Orissa said he was not authorized to comment but added that the company had all the statutory clearances in places. “We have not violated any laws,” he said.

Another major player, SR Rungta Group similarly mined iron ore and manganese in excess of the limit they were allowed by the OPCB. By conservative estimates, the total amount of the excess iron ore mined by the group companies between 2003 and 2006 in 6 of its mines was Rs 2978 crores. Like Essel Mining, Rungta Mines was also not shut in spite of OPCB norm violations. On Dec 18, 2006, the Ministry of Environment and Forests informed the Orissa government about illegal/excessive extraction of iron ore in 6 mines of Rungtas.

A designated committee of the OPCB had also found that excess mining was going on and had ordered closure of at least two mines on March 1, 2007. But the OPCB Chairman at Bhubaneswar did not issue the closure order. None of the officials of Rungta were available for comment.

Similarly, documents revealed that the Thakurani B mines owned by SL Sarda and ML Sarda in Keonjhar with a controlling interest by Jindal Steel and Power Limited mined iron ores in excess of the specified limit worth Rs 1850 crore. Evidence shows that Tata Steel, which has chromite and iron ore mines in Sukinda(Jajpur district) and Joda East (Keonjhar) respectively mined ores worth Rs 1200 crore between 2004-05 and 2007-08.

Even the IMFA group promoted by BJD MP Jay Panda, mined excess chromite ore worth Rs 50 crore in 2004-05 and 2005-06. Officials of Tata Steel and IMFA denied that the companies had violated any provisions of mining and environmental laws.

It appears that even the government companies are no holy saints since Orissa Mining Corporation was found to have mined 9.63 lakh tonnes of excess chromite from its South Kaliapani mines in Jajpur district. During the period between 2004 and 2008, the market value of the excess ore is estimated at Rs 105 crore.

Incredibly OPCB suddenly raised the limits of ore production of the companies in a subsequent year even though the company had violated the consent to operate conditions in the past. No penal action was taken against them. It also appears that OPCB officials never applied their mind to assess the disastrous effects on the local environment by allowing companies to increase their production by 10-20 times from the previous levels.

Orissa steel and mines secretary Ashok Dalwai said he was not aware if excess mining has taken place in Keonjhar and Sundargarh districts. “It has not been proved as yet whether excess mining took place. But we have to verify case by case and see if the companies had got their mining plans modified by the Indian Bureau of Mines. But we are looking into more important facts of the case,” said Dalwai.

This is surprising since the field inspection reports of the Pollution Control Board clearly pointed out the huge scam which was going on right under every body’s nose. Clearly the Mining Department and the Pollution Control Board did not exchange information.

LN Patnaik, who headed the Orissa Pollution Control Board between 2004 and 2008 (when some of the excess mining happened) said he does not remember what happened during those period. “It (excess mining) may be possible, but under what circumstances it happened I can’t say,” he said.

Meanwhile the director of Orissa vigilance, Anup Patnaik said the agency would take several months before it can file a chargesheet. “We are still assessing the magnitude of the scam. So far we have lodged 3 cases and may lodge more in the coming days. We will not spare anybody whosoever is involved in the scam,” said Patnaik.

http://www.indianexpress.com/news/orissa-mine-scam-could-be-worth-more-than-rs-14k-cr/541383/0

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