New Delhi, Aug. 2: The Supreme Court today directed Odisha government to recover "100" per cent compensation from 102 mining lease holders for "rapaciously" mining ore illegally in Keonjhar, Sundargarh and Mayurbhanj districts of the state in flagrant violation of environmental and forest laws. The order could result in the state recovering several hundred crores from miners.
The 100 per cent compensation levied on the illegal miners is a bonanza that would benefit impoverished Odisha.
Already Rs 2,370 crore had been deposited by the miners in April this year in the apex court during the hearing of the case on compensation.
The apex court said the special purpose vehicle (SPV) set up by the state for the development of tribals in Odisha would exclusively use the huge unspecified bonanza.
The bench passed the directions while dealing with a petition filed by NGO Common Cause highlighting the massive illegal mining operations in the state for the past several decades.
The court said the entire exercise led by the commission of inquiry, which was headed by former Supreme Court judge Justice M.B. Shah, and the central empowered committee (CEC) separately (over the past 5-6 years) only "suggest a mining scandal of enormous proportions and one involving megabucks. Lessees in the districts of Keonjhar, Sundargarh and Mayurbhanj in Odisha have rapaciously mined iron ore and manganese ore, apparently destroyed the environment and forests and perhaps caused untold misery to the tribals in the area".
A bench of Justice Madan B. Lokur also asked the Union government to revisit the National Mineral Policy, 2008, as it has failed to achieve the objective of eliminating illegal mining across the country.
The court has fixed two cut-off dates for calculating payment of compensation by the miners. While a cut-off date of January 7, 1998, had been fixed for those miners who mined illegally in violation of the Forest Conservation Act (FCA), a cut-off date of 2000-2001 has been fixed for those violating the Minerals, and Environment Conservation Act.
The bench passed the directions while relying on a report submitted by the apex court appointed CEC that the total notional value of minerals produced without an environmental clearance or in excess of it, comes to about Rs 17,091.24 crore for iron ore and about Rs 484.92 crore for manganese ore. When put together, it comes to a total of Rs 17,576.16 crore.
Again, this does not include mining without forest clearance.
The court rejected the plea of the miners that they should be saddled only with 30 per cent compensation for the illegal mining and not 100 per cent.
"There can be no compromise on the quantum of compensation that should be recovered from any defaulting lessee - it should be 100%. If there has been illegal mining, the defaulting lessee must bear the consequences of the illegality and not be benefited by pocketing 70% of the illegally mined ore. It simply does not stand to reason why the state should be compelled to forego what is its due from the exploitation of a natural resource and on the contrary be a party in filling the coffers of defaulting lessees in an ill gotten manner," Justice Lokur heading the bench said.
Speaking to The Telegraph, Union steel and mines secretary R.K. Sharma said: "The government will go through the judgment and act accordingly. We are yet to receive a copy of the order."