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Legal eagles argue before Shah panel

Bhubaneswar, Feb. 27: A battery of top-class lawyers descended here today as the Justice M.B. Shah Commission, inquiring into the multi-crore mining scam, resumed its hearing with focus on some contentious aspects of mining.

Legal eagles such as Ram Jethmalani, Gopal Subramaniam and Anil Divan argued on behalf of their clients before the panel focusing on the disputes triggered by the differences between the Google maps of the lease areas and the maps drawn with the help of differential global positioning system (DGPS).

Echoing the concern over mismatch in the mapping of the lease areas, Divan told reporters that the commission had agreed to physical verification of these areas.

On his part, Justice Shah acknowledged that clause 37 of the Mineral Concession Rules-1960, which prevents a mining lessee from transferring his lease area to others without previous consent of the state government or the Centre, had become contentious.

Extending an invitation to the participants of today’s session at the state guesthouse, he said the commission would discuss the issue threadbare in Ahmedabad on March 16.

Sources said the lawyers engaged by the lessees, who had especially requested the commission to give them a hearing, had managed to convince Justice Shah about the differences in mapping of the lease areas done through Google and the DGPS.

“This aspect is important as a large number of them have been accused of having engaged in mining outside their lease areas,” said a state government official present during the hearing.

Justice Shah, who heard the cases of 14 mining lessees, appeared to focus mainly on two parameters — whether mining has been done in excess of the approved plan and whether the company concerned had the approval of the mining and the forest and environment departments.

He was severe on violators, pointing out one case of excess mining to the tune of nearly 14 lakh metric tonnes.

He insisted on an explanation from the company.

This, incidentally, is the panel’s fourth visit to the state, where the scam broke in 2009.