It can be no one’s case that the Reddy brothers of the Bellary mines and Tata Steel have the same modus operandi, yet it remains true that both are accused of illegal mining—while the former’s mining licences were cancelled, the latter has a R12,500 crore penalty imposed on it in Odisha and we haven’t heard the end of the matter. Nor is it just Tata Steel, the state-owned Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC) also operates mines whose leases have expired—since OMC, like many others, applied for renewal within the stipulated time period, however, the mines operate on what is called a ‘deemed lease’. While it is not clear what the Supreme Court will do in the case of Odisha, in the case of Goa, all such licences were cancelled and fresh ones will have to be issued once the state comes out with a policy.
Which is why anyone tasked with finding out how much illegal mining there is in the country, and this includes the MB Shah commission, cannot actually say how much is really illegal and how much is considered illegal because the state government did not renew the licence in time. In the case of Odisha, the licences of 15 of the ‘deemed lease’ mines had expired more than 20 years ago, between 15 and 20 years for 17 mines, between 10 and 15 years for 38 mines—in one case, of Mineral Enterprises in Karnataka, the firm applied for a renewal in 1990, but got the renewal only in 2003. Whatever it produced in the interim was ‘illegal’, but was it really so? There are obviously many cases of rampant illegal mining, on other people’s land, in excess of what was allowed, and in most of these cases, there is active connivance of both the political and the bureaucratic class. But the actual illegal and the quasi-illegal have been so inter-twined, it is impossible to distinguish between the two. Indeed, Parliamentary panels have also been warning of this for almost a decade now, but until the Supreme Court stepped in, no state did anything.
While various states will now be forced to come out with a policy to ensure mines are allocated properly and leases renewed on time, technology has to play an important part in checking illegal/quasi-illegal mining—that means online posting of the status of mines, computerised and networked weigh bridges, 24x7 monitoring through satellites, and so on. At