Ola ignores state, ministry & Cabinet secy to play favourites

Written by Vikas Dhoot | New Delhi | Updated: Mar 31 2009, 07:53am hrs
Sis Ram
UPAs mines minister Sis Ram Ola has thrown all caution to the winds in order to reserve 1,503 hectares of prime land for iron ore mining in Karnatakas Bellary districtdespite the land being under litigation, stiff opposition from the state government and his own top officials as well as Cabinet secretary KM Chandrasekhar who all advised against it. Not just that, within a day of receiving a verbal sparring from Ola, where he chided his secretary Shantanu Consul by saying senior officers are not merely working as clerks, the secretary was moved out to the department of drinking water supply.

While land being reserved for a public sector unit seems innocuous enough, MMTC is a trading company and has no experience in mining, steel or infrastructure projects, as pointed out by the state government. More importantly, the circumstances in which the land has been reserved raises questions about the ministers keenness to push the notification through.

Its a potboiler thats been brewing from January 2009, when Olas ministry officials were considering MMTCs proposal for reserving the mine land and were to meet state officials to ascertain the leases granted in the area and the status of litigations. Ola urgently called for the file twice within a week and issued orders to reserve the area for MMTC, ignoring the state governments call to avoid precipitate action in this matter as certain writ appeals are pending before the high court.

Ministry officials advised Ola to issue a notification subject to the outcome of the judgement in the pending writ appeals, but Ola insisted that it be issued without any conditions. The matter was referred to the law ministry and subsequently, the secretary brought it to the Cabinet secretarys notice as well, who concurred with the need to ascertain the status of court cases before proceeding.

Apart from calling for disciplinary action against junior officials who advised the Centre against issuing an unconditional notification, Ola hauled up Consul for referring the matter to the Cabinet secretary without consulting him and said it was deplorable that the secretary is selectively alluding to court orders to muddle up the facts. Not surprisingly, Consul was transferred.

Ola told FE that he is aware of the transfer but stressed that I cant order a transfer. While Consul couldnt be reached, Ola first told FE that he is not aware of the details of the MMTC case. Hamare pass hazaaron file aati hain, hazaaron application aati hain (I get thousands of files and applications). I only do and will continue to do kaayde ka kaam and wouldnt do anything wrong. The state government has rights to recommend proposals and the Centres role is limited.

Stressing that hes just a farmer (Main to kisaan hoon ), Ola pointed out that his role comes into play only after state government recommendations are vetted by his ministry and the secretary. I check if everything is in order. Agar koi gadbad nahin hai to hum clear kar dete hain aur agar koi gadbad hai, to hum inquiry order karte hain .

MMTC government upkram hai (MMTC is a government undertaking). So its a government to government matter, Ola said.

An unconditional notification to reserve the land in question is learnt to have been issued after Consul, a 1974 batch officer from the Karnataka cadre, moved out on March 23. Two days later on March 25, BS Ramaprasad, secretary (commerce & industries department) in the Karnataka government, wrote to the Centre, urging that MMTCs application be rejected as its not in accordance with the states new mining policy.

The state governments Mineral Policy 2008 lays emphasis on giving preference to value adders. Therefore, it is very appropriate to give preference to the applicants who have established steel plant in the state. MMTC has not established any steel plant in the state and they have only requested for reservation of area with the sole intention of commercial exploitation of iron ore, Ramaprasad wrote.

Moreover, since the land is still under litigation to which the Centre is a party, the state has warned that the Centres move to reserve the land for MMTC would amount to contempt of court.

The Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act requires the Centre to consult states before notifying mining leases. The 1503 hectares of land is part of a larger area, which was earlier reserved by the state government for state exploitation. The area was dereserved in March 2003 by the state, but was subsequently quashed by the HC.

In his opinion on the matter, Cabinet Secretary wrote to the Mines Secretary in early March: The Minister of Mines has relied on the ruling of the apex court to the effect that it is open for the Central government to reserve an area for mining if it is thought expedient and it is in the interest of the nation or that it is necessary to conserve a particular metal or ore or the area producing it.

Pointing to certain impeding features such as the writ petitions pending in Karnataka High Court, Chandrasekhar said that legal opinion needs to be obtained. It also needs to be examined if the Centre has overriding powers to reserve an area for MMTC under the MMDR Act, even if technically the area is already reserved for State exploitation, Chandrasekhar wrote.

Olas communiqus on the issue were abrasive. On February 26, he wrote to the Secretary (Mines): As an Administrative Head, management does not only mean seeing files but also understanding the issues and maintaining an impartial attitude in all matters Please get the reservation notification issued immediately and put up to me.

On March 23, after he learnt about the Cabinet Secretarys opinion, Ola wrote: Despite my orders dated 29.01.2009, instead of issuing notification at an early date, every effort has been made to muddle up the facts There seems to be a method to this confusion.

The Secretary should set an example by excellence in his approach to work and resolving situations, and not by covering up the inefficiencies of his officers. Senior officers are not merely working as clerks, but need to apply their mind with clarity. The governance of the nation is

in their hands. Needless to repeat, promptly adhere to my directions, Ola summed up.