The Supreme Court on Tuesday sought response from the Centre as to why it should not cancel over 350 mining leases granted to various companies in 2014-15. It also issued notice to three states — Odisha, Jharkhand, Karnataka — and CBI on a PIL seeking probe into the alleged corruption in grant of mining leases.
A Bench led by Justice SA Bobde while seeking response from the Centre and the states also appointed senior counsel PS Narasimha as amicus curiae to assist the court.
The petition filed by one lawyer ML Sharma alleged that the grant of iron ore mining leases had accounted for a total loss of `4 lakh crore and sought quashing of allotment, extension or continuation of leases of over 358 mines on the ground that such allotment was done without any fresh evaluation or auction.
It said that under the garb of the 2015 amendment to the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government compelled the state governments to extend lease of 288 mineral blocks of iron ore in 2014-15 in exchange of “large donations” and this created a “serious financial loss” to the tune of `4 lakh crore to public exchequer. While Goa extended lease of 160 mines, Karnataka and Odisha granted further extension of its 45 and 31 mining leases, respectively. “Most of these mines were under control of the Vedanta group and the Tata group of the companies, which are the major donors to the ruling party.”
“The investigation should be carried out to quash allotment/extension/continuation of more than 358 iron ore mines because the leases have either been granted or extended to these firms without any fresh evaluation or adoption of an auction process,” it said while demanding the CBI probe into the issue.
According to the petition, the leases of iron ore mines have been extended or allotted free of cost without any fresh evaluation, thus leading to a huge loss to the public exchequer via a concocted conspiracy. Demanding fresh auction of the mines, the plea also sought recovery of the market value of the mined minerals from the companies.
He said that the Supreme Court in its earlier judgement had made it clear that natural assets cannot be allotted/extended free of cost. “Impugned extension is contra to the law of the country. No where in the Act, it says to extend the lease free of cost. At least value of extension must be decided as per the maximum rate of auction value by the state or by another state government during these period,” the plea stated.
Sharma also sought quashing of section 8A of the MMDR (Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act which provides that all mining lease should be granted for a period of 50 years and on expiry of lease period, it should be put up for auction as per the procedure specified in the Act.
“All old lease of the minerals mining, except coal block, has been extended for further 5 to 20 years under the garb of the amendment of 2015 without charging any cost/premium and fresh value to pay for mining while new mines have been put up for auction which were auctioned for 80% to 110% premium other then royalty, etc,” it said.