Bhubaneswar, Feb. 28: On the second day of its hearing, the Justice M.B. Shah commission today criticised mining in non-forest areas without environmental clearance.
The commission also expressed concern over mine owners engaging in excavation of ore only on the basis of mining plans without bothering to obtain environment clearance.
Justice Shah, who had examined 14 companies yesterday, was supposed to hear out 21 of them today. But that would be far from enough, considering the larger number of leaseholders in queue for hearing. This could be their last opportunity of presenting their case before the panel.
Sources said that with nearly 170 mining lease holders in queue and just three days remaining for the commission to wind up its visit, Shah advised the companies that fail to depose here because of time constraints to appear before it in Ahmedabad.
The commission, said sources, had served notices to 186 mine leaseholders for hearing. However, now it is finding itself constrained for time. It has nonetheless, made some important observations such as commenting on mining without environment clearance.
During yesterday’s hearing, the leaseholders had succeeded in convincing the commission that there were discrepancies in the government’s mapping of their lease areas, as the right technology had not been used. The commission agreed to a physical verification of the mining areas as the authenticity of the differential geographical positioning system (DGPS) used by the government for mapping was questioned. The commission had also assured the leaseholders about an exclusive hearing on the alleged violation of Rule 37 of the Mineral Concession Rules (MCR)-1960 in Ahmedabad on March 16.
The panel admitted that the rule, which prevented the transfer of a lease without prior permission of the government, had become controversial.
Significantly, Justice Shah, who is heading the commission probing into the alleged illegal mining activities in Odisha and other parts of the country, had observed that the panel would go ahead with its work despite the legal challenge to it by a body of mine operators.
“We are not bothered about it (legal challenge). We have already issued notices to all the mine lessees to appear before the commission,” he told reporters.
Sources said the final report of the commission was likely to be delayed with several contentious issues such as discrepancies in the mapping of lease areas cropping up.
“The commission cannot finalise its report without addressing these issues,” said a source in the government.
A battery of top class lawyers had descended on the city yesterday as the Shah Commission 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 commission focusing, among other things, on the disputes triggered by the differences between the Google maps of the lease areas and maps drawn with the help of DGPS.
Sources said the lawyers engaged by the lessees, who had specially requested the commission to give them a hearing, had managed to convince Justice Shah about the differences in mapping of lease areas done through Google and 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.
The mines, which pleaded their cases before the Shah Commission yesterday, included Kamaljeet Singh Ahluwalia, Pawan Kumar Ahluwalia, Ramesh Prasad Sao, Essel Mining and Industries, Kalinga Mining Corporaion, Tata Steel, Triveni Earth Movers, Sirajuddin and Company, Tarini Minerals Pvt Ltd and the state-owned Odisha Mining Corporation. The hearing will continue till March 2.