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SC to examine probe plea

- Odisha mining project under scanner

New Delhi, Nov. 19: The Supreme Court today agreed to examine on January 24 a plea for ordering a CBI probe into the controversial project of the Odisha Mining Corporation and a Delhi-based private company related to a coal block in Talcher.

On October 24, the apex court had issued notice to the CBI and the Centre on a PIL for a probe by the agency.

Additional solicitor general Siddharth Luthra told the bench of Justice R.M. Lodha and Justice A.R. Dave that the PIL, filed by Purna Chandra Shahu through counsel Suresh Chandra Tripathy, had become infructous as the state had already scrapped the project after repeated letters from the Centre that the joint venture was illegal.

The CBI counsel also said the agency had commenced preliminary inquiries into the issue.

However, Tripathi appearing for the petitioner opposed the submission and said that since 2005 the Centre had written as many as six letters for scrapping the project, but no further action was initiated. He insisted that only a formal CBI probe would ensure in bringing the guilty to the book.

The bench said it would take up the matter on January 24 along with two other PILs, which had sought quashing of the entire allocation of coal blocks in the country.

The PIL had challenged the joint venture agreement that was signed by the corporation with the Delhi-based Sainik Mining and Allied Services Limited. The petition demanded a CBI probe into the deal, citing violation of the Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Act, 1973, by conceding controlling stake to a private party for developing a coal block allotted to a PSU.

The coal ministry had allocated the coal block — Utkal-D, having a reserve of 145MT in Talcher — to the corporation on December 19, 2003, to enable it to set up a power plant. But, the corporation transferred the coal block to Sainik Mining on December 29, 2003, by entering into a joint venture with the company. While the company’s stakes in the venture were 74 per cent, the corporation’s share was 26 per cent.

The coal ministry had issued showcause notice to the corporation in July 2010 for violating the act.

After the controversy surfaced, the corporation cancelled the agreement with Sainik Mining. It also asked the company to surrender the land acquired for rehabilitation colony and other allied services.

The state government has also made it clear that the government, while renewing mining leases for captive use, would limit the area of the lessees to meet their requirement for 30 years and the balance area would be reserved for the corporation.

The mining lease would mainly serve the purpose of the captive use only. “No mineral shall be put to non-captive use as any such use will amount to violation of the lease condition,” said the letter.

The state unit of the BJP had earlier demanded a CBI inquiry into the mining scam, pointing an accusing finger at suspended BJD leader and Rajya Sabha member Pyari Mohan Mohapatra. On October 14, Orissa High Court had called for records related to the corporation’s handing over 74 per cent stake to a private company from the coal block.