PIL seeks ban on illegal Odisha mining, SC-monitored probe

11 February 2014

A public interest litigation (PIL) has been filed in the Supreme Court seeking a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation into alleged illegal mining in Odisha, as well as a ban on all mining activities in the state.

The petition, filed by activist group Common Cause on Monday, seeks the apex court's immediate intervention in the matter, saying that the Justice Shah Commission has pointed out large-scale illegal mining in the state. The court will take up the plea on 3 March.

The PIL comes even as the union government seems to be stonewalling on a CBI probe into the issue, as recommended by the commission, which indicated that the scam could have cost the exchequer Rs60,000 crore, while the state government says there is no need for a CBI probe as state police are already investigating the matter.

The Centre's stand came out in its action taken report (ATR) on the report of the commission headed by retired Justice M B Shah, which was tabled in the Parliament on Monday.

The report also listed all that the state government was doing to crack down on illegal mining and recover over Rs 59,200 crore from the mining companies as suggested by the commission.

Now, the matter is up to the Supreme Court. Citing the Shah Commission report, the PIL seeks the court's directions to "stop forthwith" all illegal mining in Odisha and to terminate all leases where the lessees were found to be involved in illegal mining. It further seeks a court-monitored probe by a special investigation team or the CBI into illegal mining in the state.

"Issue a writ directing the Union of India and Government of Odisha to immediately stop forthwith all illegal mining in the State of Odisha and to terminate all leases that are found to be involved in illegal mining and mining in violation of the provisions of the Forest Conservation Act 1980, the environment laws and other laws," the petition said.

Recommending CBI probe, the Shah Commission said since powerful lessees, big traders from Odisha and from outside state, politicians entities and administrative officers of high rank were involved, it would not be possible by state police to find the facts and realities and there would be no justice done for quantum of illegalities took place.

But in the normal course of things, the centre cannot unilaterally order a CBI probe without the state's concurrence; hence it has preferred to gloss over the issue.

According to the Shah Commission, most of the mining in the mineral-rich state is being carried out in disregard to rules, regulations and environmental norms. "The value of the unlawful extraction of iron and manganese ore comes to Rs 59,200 crore ... let the state government recover the said amount by finalising the proceedings on the basis of the notices as early as possible," its first report says.

Disagreeing with Commission's observation that there was a collapse of the state machinery during 2008-11, the Odisha government said, "The investigations are more or less complete ... charge-sheets will be filed within the next month. Some accused are absconding ... [but] there appears to be no need to hand over the investigation of these cases to any other agency."

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