State authorities send notices to 103 mines
Odisha's department of steel and mines has slapped a fine of Rs 67,900 crore on companies operating 103 mines in the Koira and Joda mining circles of Sundargarh and Keonjhar districts, respectively for mining more mineral than permitted.
On November 5, the department sent notices to companies such as Tata Steel, Essel Mining Corporation and Jindal Steel and Power Ltd. Deputy director general of mines for Koira circle said: “We have charged penalty for the excess ore they have mined out as per the Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM)’s guidelines. We have not carried any site inspection yet.”
He was not sure whether the notices would be put in the public domain. R C Rout, head of environment management division of Jindal Steel and Power Ltd, Keonjhar, defended his company, saying IBM has been inspecting their premises every year and the bureau did not find any irregularity. “We mine only in the approved mine lease area. Our stance is very clear. We are going to fight back, we are not ready to pay any fine,” he said.
According to the state steel and mines department website, there are 101 mines in Joda and 72 in Koira. The production of iron in the Joda mine circle in 2011-12 was 29.9 million tonnes; in Koira it was 0.83 million tonnes. Major iron and steel players operating in the Joda and Koira circle were slapped with fine.
Under the Section 5(2)(b) of the Mines & Minerals (Regulation & Development) Act, before the commissioning of an operation, a company has to submit a five-year plan of mining to IBM along with a mine scheme. The plan mentions the cumulative production capacity of the mine, while the scheme elaborates on how much mineral it would mine out at the end of each year. Anything mined in excess of the plan or scheme is called excessive mining of mineral ore.
The Union Ministry of Mines had clarified the meaning of excessive mineral ore production to the chief minister of Odisha early November this year in a reply letter.
The reply letter from Vishwapathi Trivedi, secretary, Union ministry of mines, to the chief minister says that if any violation of the mining plan (MP) or mining scheme (MS), including excess productions vis-s-vis the total target over the said five year periods, provided for in the approved MP or MS, should be immediately brought to the notice of IBM to initiate suitable action.
“The state government, needless to state, should not issue transit passes to such mines to stop any additional outgo,” the letter states. It also states that the state government “has clear powers to tackle any offence related to mining outside the mining lease area as per Section 23C of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957”. Section 23C of the Act explains how the state government can prevent illegalities in mining. It also allows the state to pass rules and notifications to prevent illegal mining.
At any point of the mine operation, as per rules 55-56 of Mineral Conservation and Development of 1988, IBM has been vested with the authority to inspect a mine to verify whether the mine lessee is complying with the mining plan or extracting excessive mineral and causing damage to the environment.
IBM regional office in Bhubaneswar says: “IBM comes under the Centre and there is an enquiry already going on by the Shah Commission and we are unable to comment on it right now.”
The Centre-appointed Justice M B Shah Commission to probe illegal mining across the country had visited Joda and Koira mining circles in December 2011 and October this year. Prafulla Samantra, convenor of National Alliance of People’s Movements in Bhubaneswar, says, “The move by the state government is just to give satisfaction to the Shah Commission that the state takes stringent steps against illegal mining. The state government and IBM know for a fact that there is overexploitation of resources in the area for the past 10 years but no action was taken then. Only the Shah Commission report would bring an end to this overexploitation.”