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Panel cracks mining whip

- SC committee for fast action

Bhubaneswar, Dec. 10: The Supreme Court appointed central empowered committee (CEC) today asked state government officials to take prompt steps to check illegal mining while expediting the process of clearing lease renewal applications.

Sources said the committee’s member secretary M.K. Jiwarajka, along with member Saroj Patnaik, the former chief wildlife warden of Odisha, held talks with officials of steel and mines and forest departments pointing out instances of unauthorised mining in different parts of the state.

The CEC’s visit comes close on the heels of an eight-day tour of the state by Justice MB Shah Commission, which is also inquiring into allegations of illegal mining in various parts of the country.

The two-member team which spoke, among others, to mines director Deepak Mohanty, was keen to ensure that no one was allowed to misuse the “deemed extension” clause of the Mineral Concession Rules, 1960, which allows mine owners to continue mining if the state government fails to take a decision on their licence renewal applications within the stipulated time. The panel also wants the government to crack down on mine owners operating in violation of forest laws or extracting minerals outside their lease areas.

The CEC in its interim report in April 2010 had clearly stated that mining was going on in Odisha without requisite approvals with government officials looking the other way. The panel had turned its attention to the state after a Bhubaneswar-based journalist in December 2009 complained to it about illegal mining and sought a thorough probe.

Mines director Mohanty said that the CEC was also keen to ensure that the process of lease renewal was expedited and steps taken to develop the areas in the periphery of the mining belt.

“We have informed the committee that the state government has already formed a special purpose vehicle to this end and a blueprint for periphery development at a cost of Rs 801 crore has been prepared,” said Mohanty.

The committee stressed the need for expediting the process of renewing mining leases as the closure of a large number of mines since 2009 has adversely affected the process of industrialisation. Steel plants and sponge iron industries, in particular, have been hit by the raw material crisis triggered by the closure of mines in the wake of the multi-crore mining scam that surfaced in 2009.

However, state officials told the panel that they have already disposed of 115 of the 351 lease renewal applications received by them.

The state government officials also gave the committee the details of the steps being taken to curb illegal mining. These include the constitution of a project management unit (PMU) in steel and mines department to monitor all mining related activities and making issuance of tenders and mining leases on-line for the sake of transparency.

Apart from this, steps have been taken to install radio frequency identity cards on trucks to track their movement. The chips in the identity card carry pertinent information about the quality and quantity of minerals being carried by the trucks.

Plans are also afoot to modernise all the check gates. Sources said in the first phase, the modernisation of check gates in the mining belt of Keonjhar, Sundergarh and Jajpur districts will be taken up.