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Saranda bleeds in illegal ore hunt - RTI glare on four, JSPCB mute witness

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By A.S.R.P. MUKESH
  • Published 25.04.12
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Ranchi, April 24: Reclaimed from Maoists, the natural reserves of Saranda are up against unscrupulous adversaries.

At least four mining firms have been extracting iron ore and manganese against their sanctioned capacities in this West Singhbhum region since 2008 right under the nose of the mines department and Jharkhand State Pollution Control Board (JSPCB).

The startling fact came to light this January after the two laggard state offices replied to separate RTI petitions filed by a government official — who chooses to remain anonymous — on March 28 last year.

While the JSPCB provided details of annual mining cap fixed for the individual firms, the mines department furnished its reply based on ore production. The glaring discrepancy in the two sets of figures — copies of which were acquired by The Telegraph recently — suggests that the four firms have been pilfering ores two to seven times of their approved quantities for the past three fiscal.

Interestingly, all these mining firms are operational within a 10km radius.

From 2008-11, Bijaya-II iron ore mines leased to Usha Martin Limited extracted three to four times more ore than its sanctioned limit. In 2008-09, it produced 1.833MT against an approved 0.65MT; in 2009-10, it extracted 2.324MT against 0.65MT; and in 2010-11, it bagged 2.572MT against 2.4MT.

Similarly, the Karampada iron ore and manganese mines — leased to Shah Brothers — produced 0.715MT despite permission for 0.612MT in 2008-09. The next fiscal, it extracted 0.679MT against an approved limit of 0.09MT; and in 2010-11, it gained 0.972MT against a permissible capacity of 0.09MT. Roughly, the excess production amounts to six to seven times the sanctioned limit.

In the same time span, Thakurani iron ore mines — leased to one Padam Kumar Jain — exceeded production up to twice the original consent. In 2008-09, it extracted 2MT against 1MT; in 2009-10, the production was 1.91MT against 1.3MT; and in 2010-11, the figure was 1.68MT against 1.3MT.

The fourth culprit — Ghatkuri iron ore and manganese mines whose leaseholder is Orissa Manganese Minerals Limited — exceeded overall production up to 1.6 times its sanctioned capacity. In 2008-09, the production was 0.18MT (there was no cap), in 2009-10, it extracted 1.2MT against 0.72MT; and in 2010-11, it bagged 0.943MT against 0.72MT.

According to rules, the Indian Bureau of Mines — an apex authority under the Union ministry of mines and minerals — first approves a plan submitted by an applicant, in which the latter has to furnish details of proposed yearly production.

After the bureau’s approval, the state pollution control board grants environmental clearance.

If any mining firm exceeds the capacity sanctioned by the bureau, it amounts to gross violation of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, and can invite punitive measures, including cancellation of licence.

The responsibility of monitoring violations lies with the pollution control board, but the JSPCB has not acted against the devious firms till date. The mines department too gets monthly figures of production from these companies, but never bothered to delve into details. The monthly reports just added to reams of paper in dusty files.

“The illegality has been on for three years now. Imagine the drain on Saranda’s natural resources, while the mining firms continue to operate unchecked,” a senior official of the forest department said.

Soumitra Shah of Shah Brothers, who also happens to be the son-in-law of controversial former Rajya Sabha nominee R.K. Agrawal, refused to comment. “We have no such information. I don’t owe any explanation,” he said.

N.K. Patodia, senior vice-president (commercial) of Usha Martin, claimed that their “modified mining plan” was approved by the Indian Bureau of Mines in 2007. “Our capacity cap for 2008, 2009 and 2010 was 2.5MT against which we actually extracted much less — 0.996, 1.258 and 1.593, respectively. We have supporting documents to challenge the RTI reply,” he said.

Adhunik Group executive director A. Prasad, however, conceded that there was “overproduction around last year”, but that was in “anticipation of a consent” for which the company had applied long ago.

“We had applied for 2MTPA clearance to the ministry of forest and environment. The same is stuck because of delay at the state government level. The overproduction was in anticipation of the clearance. However, the pollution board booked a case against us first and then gave the nod for 2MTPA. I don’t think there is any violation now,” he contended.

No official of Thakurani iron ore mines could be contacted.

When confronted, secretary of mines A.K. Sarkar, who holds additional charge of forests, said rules were same for everyone. “If there has been any violation, the government will certainly take action and bring the culprits to book,” he added.

But the RTI crusader, who approached The Telegraph with his exhaustive report, insisted that in Jharkhand, the authorities rarely bothered to book the guilty.

“In states like Odisha, Karnataka and Goa, the Supreme Court has constituted the Central Empowered Committee to investigate mining violations. A separate probe is also going on countrywide under the Justice MB Shah Commission. Unfortunately, Jharkhand has no will power, let alone any mechanism, to check wrong-doings, which is why unscrupulous companies are taking advantage,” he said.

Earlier this month, a public hearing of the MB Shah Commission at Doranda remained a damp squib as no one turned up. It exposed the communication gap between the department of mines and the pollution control board. “Whenever irregularities are reported, all the state departments do is play the time-tested blame game. The biggest of mining scams is in the making in Jharkhand,” the RTI petitioner added.