Supreme Court to probe illegal mining in Odisha

Hearing on plea to stay illegal mining to be taken up next Monday. Petitioners argue that the illegally recovered wealth from the miners should be utilised for the development of the backward mining districts in Odisha
Supreme Court to probe illegal mining in Odisha

On the day it pronounced its verdict on illegal mining in Goa, the Supreme Court decided to look into illegal mining in Odisha as well. On Monday, the apex court issued notices to the Centre and Odisha government on a public interest petition seeking probe into illegal mining in Odisha.  

The petition, filed by non-profit Common Cause has sought immediate judicial intervention in the matter, saying the Justice M B Shah commission report has pointed to large-scale illegal mining in the state. The commission was set up by the Union Ministry of Mines (MoM) in 2010 to look into illegal mining of iron ore and manganese in the country. In its first report on Odisha, submitted to the Centre in October last year, the commission said the state has incurred losses to the tune of Rs 59,203 crore because of rampant illegal extraction, sale and export of iron ore.

Read more on M B Shah Commission report

Odisha, a mineral rich state of India, accounts for 7 per cent of India’s forests and 11 per cent of its surface water resources; it also holds 24 per cent of India’s coal, 38 per cent of iron ore, 98 per cent of its chromite and 51 per cent of its bauxite.  

But for all its mineral wealth, the state performs poorly in terms of human development indicators, points out a report by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in 2008. The state has a human development index (HDI) of 0.362–one of the lowest in the country (national average HDI is 0.467). The CSE report, Rich Lands, Poor People, says, “Odisha's  per capita income has actually declined during the second half of the 1990s—precisely the period when the state went on an industrial overdrive.”

All the mineral-rich districts of the state feature in the list of 150 most backward districts of the country, says the report. In Keonjhar, the most mined district in the state, 62 per cent of the population lives below poverty line. In Koraput, the bauxite capital of India, 79 per cent live below poverty line. “Statistics indicate that the income from mineral extraction rarely benefits the regions from where these minerals come—in fact, poverty is increasing in many of these districts,” says the report. The petitioners have brought this skewed development in the state to the court‘s notice.

Citing the Commission's report and the CSE report, among others,  the petitioner has sought directions to "stop forthwith" all illegal mining in Odisha, and terminate all leases of firms that are involved in illegal mining and distribute the illegally recovered wealth from the miners for development of the backward mining districts in Odisha.

The petitioners have also sought directions to the state to conduct a macro environment impact assessment (EIA) study and demarcate the ecologically sensitive areas in the state where no mining would be allowed. They have also asked the court to suggest a cap on production of ores of iron, manganese, bauxite and other sought after minerals, keeping in view the principles of environmental sustainability and inter-generational equity.

Besides, they have also sought a court-monitored probe by a special investigation team or CBI into illegal mining in the state.

Pradap Sachdev, counsel for the petitioner, remains hopeful that action has been initiated to look into illegal mining activities that have been going on in the state for a while.

The matter will be taken up by the apex court on April 28 next.

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