By Bizodisha Bureau, Bhubaneswar, November 7, 2019: Odisha’s leading iron ore miners including Essel Mining, Sarda Mines and Rungta Mines have got some reprieve as a committee set up by the Supreme Court cleared of charges of illegal mining by them.

Aditya Birla’s Essel Mining, and five mines of the Chaibasa-based Rungta Group, R P Sao, Indrani Patnaik, Serajuddin and KJ S Ahluwalia, Sarda Mines and others accused of controlling mineral rights in excess of permissible limits (until recently set at 10 square kilometres), were cleared by the committee. Section 6 of the Mines and Minerals (Regulation and Development) Act, 1957 requires any further grant, in excess of the 10-km limit, to be approved by the state.

Naveen Patnaik led Odisha government had defended these lessees, and the report agreed with the state’s stand that the miners had not violated the said section of the Act.

The committee, which comprised of former Supreme Court judges Justice Anil R Dave and Justice G S Singhvi, was asked to investigate ‘de nouveau’ about fifteen lessees, accused of either having transferred control or holding mining rights in excess of permissible limits, by the apex court in the mining case (Common Cause v. Union of India and others) through an order dated November 22, 2017.

The committee has also absolved mining contractor Thriveni Earthmovers Ltd, accused of having usurped control of mines leased to some miners. The report concluded that the lessees that had hired the Salem-based contractor had done so without ceding control of their mines.

These lessees, along with five others, were accused of violating Rule 37 of the Mineral Concession Rules, 1960 (now amended) which bars the transfer of control of a lease without prior government approval. Sarda Mines, accused by the state government of supplying subsidised ore to Jindal Steel and Power, has also been found not violating mining rule.

The Odisha government and a commission on illegal mining appointed by the previous UPA government, led by another former Supreme Court judge, Justice M B Shah, had however, found the arrangement between the lessees and the operator – under which the contractor was once paid in percentage of sale value of ore – amounting to a transfer of control. This report, submitted to the Supreme Court disputed the earlier commission’s finding.

The committee’s long awaited report, however, has found three mines – leased to Mala Roy, Kavita Agrawal and Mideast Integrated Steel- falling foul of the mining laws.

Under a landmark order dated 2 August 2017, the lessees have also paid huge fines for environmental violations, amounting to about Rs 19000 crores. Most of the mining leases in question are set to lapse on March 31, 2020 and are being put to auction.

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