When Union Minister of State for Chemicals and Fertilisers Srikant Jena described Orissa’s mining scam as bigger than those of Goa and Karnataka put together, it might have been only a figure of speech. But indication of how big it could be has come now, with a penalty demand note of Rs 68,000-odd crore sent by the Orissa steel and mines department to the holders of 103 mining leases for excess mining between 2000 and 2010.
The showcause and demand notices to companies such as Tata Steel, Essel Mining, Rungtas and Indrani Patnaik for extracting iron ore and manganese beyond the permissible limit set by the authorities came almost three years after the mining scam had broken out in the state. Incidentally, the order came when members of the Justice M B Shah Commission, now probing the scam, were touring the state for the third time in less than a year.
State mines secretary Rajesh Verma said the companies have been been issued notices under Section 21(5) of the MMDR Act for crossing the limit set by the Indian Bureau of Mines, the Orissa Pollution Control Board and other regulatory bodies. Section 21(5) of the MMDR Act says, “Whenever any person raises, without any lawful authority, any mineral from any land, the state government may recover from such person the mineral so raised, or, where such mineral has already been disposed of, the price thereof, and may also recover from such person, rent, royalty or tax... for the period during which the land was occupied by such person without any lawful authority.”
The penalty notices followed a decision by the steel and mines department in July after the department found that 104 mines had raised ore in excess of the quantity approved by Indian Bureau of Mines in the mining plan/scheme at various times during the period of 10 years. Besides, 190 mines were found to have produced over and above the limit approved under the provisions of Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. Incidentally, state-owned PSU Orissa Mining Corporation was also slapped a showcause notice for excess production.
Officials in the department said that as per the existing rules, any miner, before digging, needs to obtain from the Orissa Pollution Control Board a consent-to-operate (CTO) certificate that stipulates the quantity of ore that can be mined in a year. The quantity has to be approved by the IBM.
Mining companies, an association of miners and former