Environment min turns heat on Orissa miners, digs for info on violations

Written by Kirtika Suneja | New Delhi | Updated: Jan 30 2014, 10:08am hrs
With the Orissa government levying a fine of Rs 57,904 crore on 27 mining firms for excess excavation, the environment ministry has shot off letters to more than 70 miners seeking information on the various statutory clearances they have in order to judge the extent of violations.

Officials in the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) said that three kinds of letters were sent early this week to miners who have been identified by the MB Shah Commission from mining illegally or in excess in Orissa.

According to the state government, these companies had mined in excess of the quantity permitted under various statutory clearances during 2001-10 and, therefore, need to pay the price of the excess ore mined.

Based on the letters, we will get to know the nature and extent of the violations and companies that flouted the environment clearance norms will have to apply for fresh clearances, said a ministry official.

According to an official in the Orissa government: There are four kinds of hurdles that these projects have to clear. While some need their mining plans to be approved by the Indian Bureau of Mines, others do not have environment and forest clearances and some need local clearances.

Similarly, the Central government has also said that rather than banning production of ore or cancelling mining leases, a more prudent approach would be to look into alleged violations on a case-by-case basis. For instance, Orissa government has said that action has already been taken against illegal mining in the Joda circle. Similarly, the railways will look into and take action in cases where excess ore was transported by rail by evading freight and other duties.

The Shah Commission report noted that out of 192 mining leases of iron and manganese ores in the state, 130 lessees are noted to be doing production without lawful authority" in violation of Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notifications 1994 and 2006.

Noting that its members themselves had seen the big amount of pollution in the mining areas, the commission said that "instead of being eco-friendly, the trend of the lessees has been dollar-friendly so that they can earn super normal profits by exporting iron ore".

It said that about 100 sq km area is the "mining impact zone" in Keonjhar, Sundergarh and Mayurbhanj districts, where all the 192 mining leases are located and mining is carried out in about 45% of the area, which is a very "high-density leased area".