Odisha mining scam: petition in SC seeks closure of illegal mines

As Shah Commission report gets tabled in Parliament, Delhi-based NGO, Common Cause, seeks Supreme Court's intervention for a macro environment impact assessment of the regions affected by mining
Odisha mining scam: petition in SC seeks closure of illegal mines

After the Ministry of Mines tabled the interim reports of M B Shah Commission on illegal mining in Parliament last week, a Delhi-based NGO, Common Cause, filed a public interest petition before the Supreme Court on Monday. It sought a detailed enquiry into illegal mining scam in Odisha and termination of leases of all those accused in the scam. The petition also stresses on the need for a macro environmental impact assessment.

The Shah Commission report, which pegged losses to the Odisha state exchequer due to illegal mining of iron ore at Rs 60,000 crore, was tabled in Parliament along with the action taken report on February 7. The petition filed by Common Cause alleged that the Union government sat on the report for six months without making the report public. “The government has kept the report top secret and has not tabled it in Parliament, in violation of the six month limit prescribed under the Commissions of Inquiry Act,” states the petition filed by eminent lawyer, Prashant Bhushan, on behalf of Common Cause.

‘Local communities’ rights violated’

The petition filed by Common Cause argues that even previous reports of the Comptroller Auditor General of India, Central Empowered Committee of Ministry of Mines, and reports of Delhi-based NGO, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), have shown that mining of various minerals, especially iron ore, continued without checks. It alleges that private as well as state-owned mining companies in Odisha were allowed to extract iron ore illegally as the forests and environment deteriorated in the state, causing hardships to indigenous residents of these areas. The petition states that human development index in these areas have been low in spite of profits from mining activities in the areas which is a violation of fundamental human rights of the people.

In a separate case, Bhushan has represented environmental activists from Chhattisgarh, who have challenged the termination of the Shah Commission of enquiry in the Supreme Court. Earlier in October, 2013, Ministry of Mines terminated the Shah Commission, stating that it had been given two extensions in which it was supposed to submit its findings.

However, due to shortage of staff and delays in supplying appropriate reports by various state governments, the Commission could not file its report on time. On the other hand, activists from Chhattisgarh have demanded that the Shah Commission should be allowed to carry out its investigation as it is one of the first government-appointed commissions which is “seriously” looking at environmental and social impacts due to mining. Union government in its reply told the Supreme Court, it will not extend the tenure.

CBI or SIT probe sought

The new petition by Common Cause has requested the apex court to issue specific writs to terminate all the leases in the state which were found to be involved in the illegal mining. It also demands detailed enquiry, either by the Central Bureau of Investigation or a government-appointed special investigation team into illegal mining in Odisha and collusion between private companies and government officials. Further, it also asked the Court to issue appropriate writs by which a macro environment impact assessment of the regions affected by mining be conducted to delineate ecologically sensitive areas, putting a cap on the production of minerals, keeping the principles of inter-generational equity and sustainability in mind. The fresh petition along with case to extend the Shah Commission's tenure would be heard by the apex court judges on March 3.

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