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Delay in SC panel report on law violations hits mining auction in Odisha

Dillip Satapathy/Bhubaneswar 13 Feb 19 | 09:11 PM

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Inordinate delay in submission of a report by the Supreme Court-constituted panel to look into violations of mining laws in Odisha has hit the auction of mines in the state.

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As opposed to 14-15 auctions planned in 2018-2019, the state has seen only five. State officials said the views of the panel will have a bearing on the participation and disqualification of bidders in the auction and hence, the wait for the panel report, resulting in delays.

As a result, auction of over 320 million tonne of mineral capacity expected for 2018-19, has been pushed into uncertainty.

Following a hearing on November 22, 2017 in the case related to the Odisha mining scam, the apex court had set up an expert panel, comprising former Justice G S Singhvi and Justice Anil R Dave, to look into allegations of violation of Rule 37 of Mineral Concession Rule, 1960, and Section 6 of MMDR Mines and Mineral (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957 in the state.

While Rule 37 dealt with collusion of mine owners and mining contractors in the operation of mines and sale of minerals, the Section 6 of MMDR Act barred acquisition of more than 10 sq km of mining lease by any person or firm.

The lessees, which have been accused of violation under these acts and rules included some of the large mines in the state Sarda Mines Pvt. Ltd., Rungta Mines Limited, Rungta Sons Pvt. Ltd., Bonai Industries Company Ltd., Essel Mining and Industries Ltd., amongst others.

After forming the expert panel in November, 2017, the Supreme Court had asked it to file its report within 12-weeks period from the date of its first hearing. However, it is yet to submit the report.  

In a recent hearing on the matter on January 16, 2019, the SC has directed the Registry of the Court to find out and apprise the apex court in four weeks of January 16, 2019 judgement (i.e. February 16, 2019) as to when the Committee report is expected to come out.

It may be noted that the Odisha mining scam, which the Shah Commission had estimated to be close to 60,000 crore, has gone through a long-winded judicial route since it was brought to light in late 2009.

The Common Cause, a noted NGO, had gone to the Supreme Court seeking action against the miners accused of illegal mining and CBI probe into the scam. Following this, the apex court had directed the state government to collect compensation of Rs 17500 crore from the errant miners towards violation of environment and forest rules.

Subsequent suspension of operation at many mines and now delay mining auction is expected to hit state government’s ambitious plan to create 10 lakh new jobs in the mining sector by 2025.

As mandated by amended MMDR Act, 2015, a total of 288 mineral blocks are lapsing by March 31, 2020, out of which 45 are in Odisha. The delay in filing of report by the SC appointed panel might create hurdles in re-auctioning of the lapsed mining leases, said an official of a mining company. 

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