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Justice M B Shah Commission urges state to regulate ore extraction

Concerned over the rampant extraction of iron ore by miners in excess of the approved mining plan especially in the Joda mining circle, the Justice M B Shah Commission of enquiry has urged the Orissa government to curb production so as to ensure that the finite mineral resource is left for future generations.

“The state is rich in iron ore and this needs to be preserved and conserved for future generations,” Shah told newspersons after holding talks with top officials of the state government including the Chief Secretary B K Patnaik.

Asked if the commission was satisfied by the steps taken by the state government to curb illegal mining activities, he said, “They (Orissa government) are taking proper steps. We have asked the government to ensure that illegal mining does not happen in the future.”

On why the panel did not visit mine leases of state PSUs like Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC) despite alleged statutory violations, he said, any such violation has not come to our notice. “The Shah Commission has asked us to restrict excess ore production. They have also stressed on earmarking more funds by lessees for peripheral development,” said an official source.

The Chief Secretary said, “We have informed the Shah Commission on the steps taken by the state government to check illegal mining. The state Chief Minister has written to the Centre on revision of iron ore royalty rate. Mine owners in the stare are earning super normal profits and the Chief Minister has also demanded the imposition of Mineral Resource Rent Tax at 50 per cent of the surplus rent. The state government had also demanded ban in iron ore exports.”

“We informed the panel that the state government had introduced a rule for peripheral development in mine lease areas which was challenged by the lessees in the Orissa High Court. Later, we approached the Supreme Court on the matter. We apprised the commission on steps taken by mining and forest departments to crack down on illegal mining activities in the state. The panel has expressed its satisfaction on the measures taken by the state government,” he said.

Patnaik said the commission has proposed to the state to limit excess ore production and also check if the lessee has not violated any law during the process of renewal of mining lease.

The state government had appointed a six-member committee to look into cases of excess lifting of ore by miners and according to the report submitted by the committee, 104 lessees were in the dock for excess raising for at least a year during the last 10 years.

“The state government asserted before the commission that despite repeated requests, the Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM) was not taking any action against the errant lessees. The panel expressed extreme dissatisfaction over IBM and asked the Central government wing as to why its was silent over the issue,” said Patnaik. After wrapping up its two-day field visit of nine mines in Joda and Barbil sectors in Keonjhar district, the Shah Commission on Monday interacted with top officials of the state government. On Tuesday, the commission is set to visit the Paradeep port to enquire about details of mineral exports through the major port.

The mines inspected by the probe panel include Sarada Mines, Joda (east) mines of Tata Steel, Kasia iron ore and dolomite mines of Essel Mining & Industries, Mideast Integrated Steel's (Mesco) Barbil mines, Unchabali iron ore & manganese ore mines of Indrani Patnaik, Patnaik Minerals Pvt Ltd under Joda circle, Jajang mines of Rungta Mines, Mala Ray mines and B D Patnaik's Kalapahad mines.

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