They used a legal loophole to violate environmental norms

Ninety-four of the 192 iron ore mining leases in Odisha do not have the mandatory environmental clearances.

And of the 96 that have them, 75 have mined far beyond their permitted levels over the past several years, says the Justice M.B. Shah Commission report.

The Hindu has accessed parts of the report on illegal iron ore and manganese mining, which is yet to be tabled in Parliament. It is the last one from the Justice Shah Commission.

The exhaustive five-volume report lays bare how the mines have continued to use a loophole in the law for years and flagrantly violate environmental and other norms to pump out iron at a time when international prices of the metal are booming. The report is to be considered by the Cabinet before it is tabled in the next session of Parliament.

The report says 56 mining leases operated close to identified wildlife areas without adequate protection to the animals. The mandatory forest clearances had not been obtained in several cases. Waterbodies in and around 55 mines have been polluted. Water has depleted in natural streams in some cases and forestland impacted adversely in several otehrs. A mining-project within a 10-kilometre vicinity of a protected wildlife area requires mandatory clearance from the National Board of Wildlife, which too was not obtained in several cases. The Hindu contacted the offices of Union Minister for Mines and Minerals Dinsha Patel and Environment and Forests Minister Veerappa Moily for comments on the report, but neither returned the calls.

The Shah Commission held both the Central government authorities and the Odisha government responsible for the wide-ranging illegal mining that has continued unchecked for years. It has recommended that the entire extraction in all cases, where leases are operated without mandatory environmental clearances, be treated as illegal and the market value — domestic or export — recovered from the defaulting miners.

The Commission’s earlier reports on Goa and Karnataka had brought to light rampant corruption and illegal mining and export in both States and put the Central government as well as State officials in the dock. In the Odisha report too, the Commission said action must be taken against State and Central government officers who allowed the illegal mining for years in violation of various laws. The Commission, which has been told to wind up before it reports on illegal mining in Chhattisgarh, has warned that there was an absolute lack of monitoring in Odisha and miners were fearlessly violating provisions of the law as if they did not exist.

It also warned that the practice of merely asking violators to plant more trees than was normally required is not a legitimate alternative to prosecution under the penal provisions of the Forest Conservation Act which attract punishment that includes imprisonment. This practice — which has no legal backing — has rendered the Act toothless and ineffective.