Bhubaneswar/New Delhi, Jan 24:
Acting on the report of the Justice MB Shah Commission on illegal mining in the state, the Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) has directed the Odisha government to take action against companies found to have violated various norms while exploring minerals in the state.
According to sources in the MoEF, the Ministry has already issued instructions to the state government to take action against such companies. It has been advised to slap show-cause notices on them before cancelling their mining leases as the Shah Commission has recommended a ban on mining along the highly polluted Baitarani river.
Sources confirmed that the Ministry has directed the state government to initiate action against the 55 firms involved—including those that are part of the Tata and Aditya Birla groups. Besides, it will affect Steel Authority of India and Jindal Steel and Power Ltd’s Sarada mines.
Sources said a letter had been sent to the principal secretary, state department of Environment, asking it to take legal action against 55 firms who have violated the conditions of the iron ore and manganese ore mining leases granted to them.
The officials have also been requested to give reasons for the delay in filing court cases by the state government against the violators under section 19 of the Environment (Protection) Act, the sources added.
If the state government acts on the controversial report, it will seriously affect iron ore production in a state that is India’s largest producer of the mineral and supplies it to several steel plants in India and abroad.
In 2012-13, Odisha accounted for nearly 45% of India’s total iron ore production of 143 million tonnes (MT), according to iron ore and steel information portal OreTeam.
Mining circles see this as a significant move by the Centre before the Supreme Court takes up the Shah panel’s report on January 27.
While making a case for criminal proceedings against the officials responsible for the serious violations in the mining sector, the Commission has also recommended the recovery of the cost of illegally mined iron ore at market price / export price from companies responsible for such violations.
If the BJD government acts on the Centre’s directive, it would give a telling blow to mining activities in the state. If it does not, it will provide a fresh handle to the opposition parties, which have been clamouring for a CBI probe into the huge mining scam.
This will hardly be a welcome prospect for the ruling Biju Janata Dal and its ‘clean’ leader Naveen Patnaik in an election year.