Bhubaneswar, Sept. 4: The state vigilance department today arrested the main accused in the Rs 1,800-crore Uliburu mining scam, Deepak Gupta, from Cuttack.
Gupta, who took a power of attorney from one B.K. Mohanty, whose mine at Uliburu in Keonjhar is at the centre of the controversy, had been absconding ever since the scam broke about a month ago. Gupta had exported around 45.22 lakh metric tonnes of iron ore from the area. He had made profits to the tune of Rs 894 crore in six years. The vigilance had filed cases against him and four of his family members. The department had even put up posters in Barbil and Keonjhar for Gupta’s arrest.
However, the vigilance department’s probe has not gone down well with the Indian Forest Service (IFS) Association, Odisha chapter. The association alleged that victimisation of its members in connection with the scam was affecting the morale of the officials.
Demanding immediate revocation of the suspension orders of two senior IFS officers, the association said they had no role in the scam. “We met the chief secretary yesterday and apprised him of it,” said IFS association secretary S.K. Chadha.
The two officers — Pradep Raj Karat (IFS batch-92) and Sarat Kumar Mohanty (IFS batch-2000) — were put under suspension on August 21 in connection with the illegal mining in the Uliburu forest. The duo, who had been posted in the area between 2004 and 2009 when allegations of illegal mining came up against Mohanty and his lease holder, Gupta, were punished for negligence of duty and showing favour to the offenders.
Mohanty said: “During my tenure, no such illegal activities had taken place. I was devastated after hearing about my suspension. It is unfortunate.”
Citing the example of the suspension of IFS Durga Shakti Nagpal in Uttar Pradesh, the association said the move set an unfortunate precedent of taking action without following due process of law and justice. “It is bound to adversely affect the morale of the officers,” said Chadha.
The state government has so far suspended nearly 18 officers from forest, revenue and mining departments in connection with the scam.
Challenging the government’s order, the association said that according to the Odisha forest code’s provisions, it was the forest guard and foresters’ responsibility to inspect the boundaries at least once a year and report the cases of encroachment or wilful removal or destruction of boundary marks. It was not the duty of the divisional forest officers, which these two men were.
The association stated that it was not physically possible for a divisional forest officer to verify the forest boundaries. “The divisional forest officer is liable for neglecting or overlooking reports from sub-ordinate officers about encroachment in forests. However, there is no record of the report on the Uliburu illegal mining being submitted to the duo. Therefore, their liability does not arise,” the association stated in its memorandum.
The associations claimed that of the alleged illegal mining in an area of 35 hectares in Uliburu, the area under the control of the department was limited to 6.36 hectares of the reserve forest. The remaining 29.12 hectares is under the revenue administration’s control.
A vigilance official said everything had been done in a surreptitious way and the beneficiaries included officials of both the forest and mining departments posted in the area between 2004 and 2010.
The Uliburu mining area at Barbil under Champua sub-division in Keonjhar district is a rich repository of iron and manganese ore. Though there is a restriction on mining in the reserve forest areas, the mafia manage to extract the minerals.