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Odisha mining scam: Shah panel comes down heavily on ‘illegal’ deals

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Reported by Chinmaya Dehury

Bhubaneswar, Aug 8:

The Justice MB Shah Commission, which probed the Odisha mining scam, has held that the deal between Sarada Mines and Jindal Steel and Power Ltd (JSPL) has violated the law. In signing the deal, the lessee has not only violated the Environment and Forest clearance Act, but has also thrown all laws into the wind by transferring the interest of the leasehold area to JSPL, the commission has said in its Action Taken Report (ATR) tabled in the Parliament recently.

Justice MB Shah
Justice MB Shah

“The lessee has transferred the interest of the lease hold area to JSPL by allowing it to construct and carry out crushing, screening of the ROM purchased from lessee and other allied activities, including the establishment and use of various infrastructures in the lease hold area without having approval of the competent authority under Rule 37 of the Mineral Concession Rules (MCR), 1960. How can such a business involving hundreds of crores of rupees take place?,” questioned the Commission.

The commission said these acts of lessee not only constitutes violation of Rule 37 of the MCR, 1960, but involves clear evasion of VAT, Income Tax, money laundering, service taxes and other applicable taxes which require a thorough investigation and follow up action by an independent agencylike CBI.

“It is stated here that Deputy Commissioner of Commercial Taxes, Barbil has raised a demand for evasion of taxes (VAT) (for the period from 1 April 2008 to 31 March 2011) including penalty for Rs.397.12 crores. The VAT evasion before 1 April 2008 is in addition. How the State machinery can ignore such a high rank illegalities?” wondered the commission in its ATR.

Stating that since the entire production of lessee is sold to JSPL within the leasehold area, it said that the Sarada Mines successfully got approval for diversion of forest land even though the lessee does not have any right over it after it handed over the production to a third party.

“Hence, the lessee cannot apply for diversion of forest land on proxy with full support from the government officials. SMPL obtained the approval under FCA illegally. In the light of continuous successive developments and new facts, in the matter as a whole, since the renewal of lease (before and after), prima–facie, it appears that the lessee has committed breach of Rule 37 of MCR, 1960,” said the ATR report.

The commission said that extraction of iron ore prior to 22 September 2004 would be illegal and without lawful violation of Para 17 of Part VII of lease deed agreement authority. “Therefore, action should be taken under Section 21(5) of MM(DR) Act, 1957 for such illegal production of 5,03,241 MT and other excess, illegal and unlawful production,” said the report.

Even after the commission pointed out such large scale illegalities, the Odisha government has opposed the recommendation of commission for a CBI probe citing that the Central Empowered Committee is inquiring into the matter on the direction of the Supreme Court and there is no need for an investigation by the CBI.