Union minister Jairam Ramesh shares a laugh with Arjun Munda at the chief minister’s residence in Ranchi on Monday. Telegraph picture
Ranchi, July 2: Union rural development minister Jairam Ramesh will try to persuade the Centre not to allow any more private mining companies to operate in the mineral-rich Saranda forests, a former Maoist stronghold that is now the focus of a massive rejuvenation plan.
If the minister, who toured the West Singhbhum forests yesterday, has his way, at least 20 companies, including steel behemoths like ArcelorMittal, Tata Steel, Jindal Steel & Power Limited (JSPL) and Essar Group, would be hit hard as they have been allotted areas in Saranda for mining on condition of local value addition as per MoUs signed with the Jharkhand government.
“I am against any mining activities by private companies in Saranda. I will recommend to the Union government not to allow private companies for any mining activities in the region. Only mining areas under SAIL (Steel Authority of India Limited), a public sector undertaking, and those under a few private companies which are enjoying mining rights before 2007 should be allowed,” the minister told The Telegraph.
In Ranchi, Ramesh spent the day reviewing the progress of Saranda Development Plan, a Rs 250-crore initiative to benefit 56 villages in the forest that was cleansed of Maoists after a sustained offensive by the CRPF and state police in August-September last year.
The economist-politician explained his opposition to private mining activities in the region.
“Maoists and their sympathisers spread propaganda that the Saranda Development Plan is aimed at clearing the way for private mining companies to make an entry to the forests. But this is wrong, baseless and mischievous,” he said.
Referring to the 2006-2007 tenure of former chief minister Madhu Koda as a “free for all” during which time a majority of the mining proposals for iron ore and manganese in the Saranda reserve forest areas were cleared, Ramesh pointed out that it was these proposals that were now up for various statutory clearances.
Among the companies that were given iron ore mining or prospecting leases during 2006 and 2007 were Rungta Mines Limited, Sunflag Iron and Steel Company, Balmukund Sponge & Iron Limited, Bihar Sponge Iron Limited, Anindita Traders & Investments Limited, Jindal Steel & Power Limited, Horizon Loha Udyog Limited, Bhushan Power & Steel Limited, JSW Steel Limited, Essar Steel Limited, ArcelorMittal India Limited, Ispat Industries Limited, Neelanchal Iron & Power and Tata Steel.
Ramesh explained that Naxalites were, in fact, in favour of mining by private companies so that they could collect levy.
“But they (CPI-Maoist) are compelled to put up a mask and say that they are against private companies to get support from the local masses,” he said.
He admitted the Saranda area should have been developed decades back, and that it was a failure of the Centre and state.