Reported by Chinmaya Dehury with inputs from Delhi Bureau
Bhubaneswar / New Delhi, Apr 28:
Even as the Supreme Court reserved its ruling on the PIL on the large-scale illegal mining in Odisha, the state government as well as a large number of mining lessees are staring at the possible closure of iron ore and manganese mines after the bench hearing the case today hinted at a Goa-style ban on all mining in Odisha till the state government sorted out the mess in the mining sector and granted fresh leases instead of allowing the miners to enjoy deemed extension of their leases for years together.
If the mood of the Forest bench of the Supreme Court which heard the arguments on the PIL on illegal mining in Odisha is any indication, the mining lessees as well as the state government may find themselves in big trouble.
A bench, comprising Justices A K Patnaik, FMI Khalifullah and S S Nijjar appeared convinced by the petitioner’s lawyer Prashant Bhushan referred to the apex court’s earlier ban on mining in Goa and said there can not be two different punishments for the same crime. The bench also dismissed the claim by senior lawyer Pinaki Mishra, who appeared on behalf of some mining lessees, who said there was no illegality involved in the mining operations in Odisha.
The findings of the Justice MB Shah Commission which establishes the prevalence of rampant illegal mining in Odisha is also likley to have a bearing on the court’s interim order, sources said.
The CEC, which has submitted its report to the court after hearing from the state government and the mining lessees, has found several mines operating under the deemed extension clause for years together.
Currently in Odisha 57 mines are operating under the deemed extension clause, which allows miners to run their operations even after the expiry of the original lease period, provided they apply for renewal 12 months before the date of expiry of the lease and if the same has not been expedited by the state or Central government.
At present, about 10 mines are operating under second renewal, 12 under third renewal and two under the fourth renewal applications.
This list includes six iron and manganese leases of Tata Steel and three of SAIL’s as well as leases held by Roongta’s mines. Aditya Birla group’s Essel Mining, a mine owned by KJS Ahluwalia and two mines owned by state-owned PSU Orissa Mining Corporation.
It may be noted here that while giving its judgment in a case relating to iron ore mining in Goa, the court had said that all mining activities under the deemed extension clause after the end of first renewal period of 20 years are illegal.
Justice MB Shah Commission had also recommended the closure of all illegal mining operations and collection of the penalty amounts imposed on defaulters. It also favoured a CBI probe into mining and for restoration of re-vegetation of the natural surroundings affected by mining.