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HC check on mining lease
- Order takes away clause advantage

Cuttack, Dec. 19: Orissa High Court today imposed restrictions on mining leases being extended on the strength of the deemed extension clause of the Mineral Concession Rules, 1960.

The clause has become controversial in the state, where many mines are allowed to operate taking advantage of it.

Biswajit Mohanty, board member of Transparency International India, had filed the PIL alleging that mining leases had not been renewed in the case of 215 mines in the state.

Lease of 15 mines had not been renewed for more than 20 years, 17 mines for 15 to 20 years, 38 mines for 10 to 15 years, 65 mines for five to 10 years and 80 mines for less than 5 years.

The division bench of Chief Justice V. Gopala Gowda and Justice B.N. Mohapatra issued the interim order on a PIL seeking quashing of Rule 24 A (6) of the Mineral Concessions Rules, 1960, on the basis of which, mining leases were enjoying the ‘deemed to be extended’ status without renewal for years together.

The rule reads: “If an application for renewal of a mining lease is not disposed of by the state government before the date of expiry of the lease, the period of that lease shall be deemed to have been extended by a further period till the state government passes order thereon.”

The issue had also been taken note of by the Justice M.B. Shah Commission during its visit to the state last month.

The panel members had taken the state government officials to task for allowing mines to operate on the strength of this clause even though many of them did not possess valid papers.

The petitioner alleged that presence of Rule 24A (6) has led to “willful abuse of the powers” both at the Centre and the state government level.

The mining operations without renewal of lease for years together in such large number of cases are “demonstrative of the dishonest collusion” between the Union ministry of mines and the state steel and mines department.

The applications for renewal of mining lease were “knowingly and deliberately kept pending to enable illegal mining,” the PIL contended.

After a preliminary hearing, the court issued notices to both the Centre and the state government and imposed restrictions on allowing ‘deemed to be extended’ status for mining lease without prior permission of the court.

The petition alleged that more than 300 mines in the state consisted of either wholly or partly of forest areas. In these cases, either no forest clearance was obtained or clearance claimed to have been taken for “broken up areas”.

In some cases, for the broken up areas, temporary working permission has been given. However, in all the cases, law enjoins that forest clearance for the entire area, inclusive of both non-forest areas, is to be obtained from the ministry of forest and environment.

Apparently, no such clearances have been obtained, but the mines have been operated or to be operated on one pretext or the other, the petition further alleged.