Mining outside the lease hold areas without any formal approval and without forest and environmental clearance is the major irregularity in Odisha mining sector that has been continuing at least since last one decade. And, when it comes to forest clearance and approval under environmental protection act, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik himself was the forest and environment Minister for seven years, from May 2004 to May 2011.It seems, Odisha mines department officials, mining companies operating in the state and, to some extend, the Chief Minister may have to spend some uncomfortable days till Justice M B Shah Panel submits its report on illegal mining in Odisha. As the leader of the Shah panel that visited Odisha recently, U V Singh, said while closing the third phase inquiry that the commission would start submitting its report during third week of December.
Apart from the inquiry by the Shah commission, what have brought more trouble for the Odisha government and the Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, in particular, are the steps taken by the Department of Mines against the mining lessees allegedly involved in mining ores illegally or beyond the permitted limit. The department serving notices to such lessees with fine imposed on them is considered by opposition parties as government’s admission to the fact of illegal mining in the state.
While Congress leader and Central Minister Srikant Jena demanded immediate resignation of Naveen Patnaik as the Chief Minister, few other Congress leaders like the Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee President Niranjan Patnaik and BJP Vice President, Odisha Unit, Ashok Sahu reiterated their demand for a CBI probe into the whole affair of mining irregularities in Odisha.
Even after all these demands and a direct accusation by the Central Minister of Statistics and Programme implementation Srikant Jena, the Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is tight lipped to reply to any of the questions raised against him and the so called transparency of the government led by him. And, the silence of Naveen Patnaik raises lot more questions than what have been raised by leaders of opposition parties.
Mining outside the lease hold areas without any formal approval and without forest and environmental clearance is the major irregularity in Odisha mining sector that has been continuing at least since last one decade. And, when it comes to forest clearance and approval under environmental protection act, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik himself was the forest and environment Minister for seven years, from May 2004 to May 2011. Now, who will give an answer to the basic question – how such violation of Forest and Environment Laws went unnoticed for such a long period? And, who are those responsible for the gross negligence that opened up opportunities for some mining companies to dig out minerals illegally?
It’s not that the government couldn’t notice the violation of laws by big mining players who are now served with notices by the government. In January 2006, Essel Mining was given a notice by OPCB’s Keonjhar regional office to close its screening plants inside the forest area running without mandatory environmental clearance. In spite of such a notice, the operation didn’t stop and no further action was initiated by the concerned department. Why? Ironically, the ministry of Forest and Environment was then under the Chief Minister.
The other issue is about excess mining in the lease hold areas given for mining. How the Department of Mines and the concerned officials deputed for regular monitoring couldn’t know about the excess mining and how could the affair continue for long 10 years? However, it’s not lessee only who should be solely blamed for this irregularity but the officials in charge of monitoring the operation of various mines are equally responsible for this. Even during the first visit to inquire into mining Justice M B Shah himself hinted at strong bureaucratic link in the whole issue of illegal mining saying that “without a connivance of the Bureaucrats it (the scam of such magnitude) would not have been possible”.
What step the government of Odisha initiated after getting such an indication from Justice M B Shah? No action against any senior bureaucrat has yet been initiated except some subordinates and small officials being sacrificed. Even, while imposing fine and serving notices to the companies, why simultaneous steps against the erring officials are not taken?
The fine imposed by Odisha government on the errant companies amounts over 70,000 crore rupees. Leave apart the real magnitude of the scam, which Srikant Jena imagines to be of 4 lakh crores, an irregularity of 70,000 crore rupees is worth enough for a CBI probe. And, a probe by CBI can only track the involvement of bureaucrats, senior officials and political leaders in the illegal mining and bring them to book. But, in spite of several demands for a CBI probe, why the government of Odisha is not going for it when it would largely help in re-establishing the transparent image of the government and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik as well?
One can't expect replies to all these questions when Chief Minister prefers to stay mute on the issue!
This article first appeared on November 13, 2012, at the HotnHitNews.