Why Supreme Court of India refrained to direct a CBI inquiry into mining scam in Odisha

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By Sanjeeb Kumar Sahoo

NEW DELHI (INDIA): In what could be a major blow to the mining companies involved in illegal operations in Odisha, the Supreme Court of India (SCI) on Wednesday imposed 100% penalty on mining lease holders operating without necessary clearances in the state while ignoring Shah Commission report where it has mentioned 14 miners names for CBI inquiry.

A two-member apex court bench comprising Justice Madan B Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta asked the companies, which have been served the demand notice by the Odisha government, to deposit the due on or before December 31.

While the state government imposed about Rs 60,000 crore penalty on mines for illegal mining between 2000 and 2010, the Central Empowered Committee, appointed by the apex court, has recommended that at least 30% notional value may be realised from the mining companies.

“The amounts determined as due from all the mining lease holders should be deposited by them on or before December 31, 2017. Subject to and only after compliance with statutory requirements and full payment of compensation and other dues, the mining lease holders can re-start their mining operations,” the court said.

The court’s direction came on the basis of a Public Interest Litigation filed by the watchdog group Common Cause, which demanded action against lessees that had been pointed out as violating the law by the Justice MB Shah Commission on illegal mining.

The bench also refrained to direct a CBI inquiry into the mining scam in Odisha.

It suggested formation of an exert Committee headed by a retired Supreme Court judge to look into the factors that made rampant illegal mining possible in Odisha and elsewhere.

“For the present, we do not propose to direct an investigation or inquiry by the CBI for the reason that what is of immediate concern is to learn lessons from the past so that rapacious mining operations are not repeated in any other part of the country.”

“This can be achieved through the identification of lapses and finding solutions to the problems that are faced,” said the court.

The court also directed the Centre to have a fresh look at the National Mineral Policy, 2008 and complete the exercise by December 31.

The Odisha government has maintained that it would realise the penalty from the lease holders for excess mining after taking legal opinion on the Supreme Court order.

“We had imposed a fine on the excess production of minerals for mining beyond approved limit. Even though the court has ordered for 100% fine, we have to examine the court order. We will take legal opinion over this. We would recover the amount from the mining companies by December 31,” said mines director Deepak Mohanty.

He, however, did not disclose what would be the amount to be realised from the lessees. He said the department may revisit the demand notice sent to the mining companies after legal consultation.

Reacting to the court order, Eastern Zonal Mining Association (EZMA) general secretary Prabodh Mohanty said since out of 187 mines, 102 are closed, the lease holders are not in a position to pay the penalty to the state government.

“We are examining the court order. If required, we may move the Supreme Court and file a review petition in this regard,” said Mohanty.

Buy why Narendra Modi and Supreme Court of  India have silenced despite Shah Commission report where it has mentioned 14 miners names for CBI inquiry

The third volume of the Second Report of Justice Shah Commission of enquiry regarding illegal mining in Odisha, had recommended the Centre to initiate probe by Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) against 14 miners due to involvement of state government officials in large scale illegal mining, according to Business Standard report.

The report, which was tabled in the Parliament earlier this week, said, since there was enough evidence that state government officials had knowledge of the rule violations by miners, only an inquiry by a central government agency such as CBI could unravel all the culprits. In the second volume of the Second report, the enquiry panel had recommended CBI inquiry into all cases of illegal mining in Odisha.

In the third volume, after scrutinising 23 iron ore leases allotted to 14 miners, the report said CBI inquiry must be started against companies such as Aditya Birla group controlled Essel Mining, Sirajuddin and Co, Indrani Patnaik, Sarada Mines, Aryan Mining, M L Rungta, Mesco, Kalinga MIning Corporation, Ram Bahadur Thakur, S N Dasmohapatra.and four other small miners.

These companies have been found guilty of illegal mining, excess production, violating Rule 37 of Mineral Concession Rule 37 (subletting of lease), and evading crores of rupees in terms of income tax and sales tax payment, the report said, alleging lax attitude of the state government authorities for perpetration of the crime. “It reflect on the poor administration of the state government and disregard with impunity to the law. The implementing and controlling agencies of the state seemed to be either acting in connivance or were helpless and silent spectators,” the inquiry report said in conclusion.

The Commission also questioned the relevance of handing over mining operation to private parties citing large scale tax evasion by miners.

“If the only amount that the government gets out of mining, royalty and taxes, are evaded through such devious means then there will be very little justification for private mining,” it said in its observation.

The Shah Commission also upbraided steelmaker Jindal Steel and Power Ltd (JSPL) , UK-based trading agency Stemcor and mining contractor Thriveni Earthmovers Private Ltd (TEMPL) for taking control over iron ore mines allotted to other leaseholders.

In its inquiry report, the commission had found out that JSPL was allowed to install crushing units inside leased area of Sarada mines, while Stemcor laid slurry pipelines from mines lease area of Aryan Mining and Trading Company (AMTC). Similarly, huge payments made by Thriveni to group companies of Sirajuddin apparently proved that ‘TEMPL may not merely be a raising contractor but actually an entity who controls entire mine by proxy’.

It found out that as many as 15 miners encroached more than 15 per cent of their total lease area for mineral production and has suggested cancellation of their leases. In its action taken report, the state government however, said it would take appropriate action after proper investigation by its vigilance department.

With inputs of IANS