Company failed to submit mining plan, get statutory clearances

The Oommen Chandy government gave a two-year extension to MSPL, a private company, to submit a mining plan and get statutory clearances from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests to mine for iron ore at Chakkittapara as recently as March 14 this year.

Approval of the mining plan by the Indian Bureau of Mines and clearances under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, and the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, are mandatory. The plan is the basic document for granting formal sanction of the mining lease.

The extension seems to have been given taking advantage of a leeway given under Rule 22(4) of the Mineral Concession Rules, which deals with the procedure on receipt of an application for the grant of a mining lease.

The rules leave it entirely to the State government to choose the time by which a private company should submit the mining plan. This can be anywhere between six months and “such other period as may be allowed by the State government.”

The extension was given this year despite a two-year window given to the company in 2011 to procure the mining plan and clearances.

The State had in 2010 accorded “in-principle approval” for granting the mining lease to the company for mining for iron ore over an area of 406.45 hectares at Chakkittapara.

The in-principle approval followed an October 2009 “prior approval” by the Centre under Section 5(1) of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957, for mining for iron ore in the area.

The extension granted by the present government follows a Government Order issued by the Industries Department on January 22, 2011, saying the private company wanted two years’ time to submit its mining plan and other required clearances from the Union Ministry.

The Director of Mining and Geology, Thiruvananthapuram, had recommended the request of the company and forwarded it to the government for a favourable consideration.

The Government Order said the government had “examined the matter in detail” before granting the extension for furnishing of mining plan and clearances. It said the mining lease would be granted subject to the outcome of litigation in the Delhi High Court.

Two years later, the company had neither submitted the mining plan nor procured the statutory clearances. Despite this lapse, an extension was given on March 14, 2013.

This Government Order says the private company has requested for another two years, starting in January 2013, for the submission of the required documents.

A favourable nod came from the Director, Mining and Geology. The government readily agreed to the two-year extension with effect from January 23.

The Government Order goes a step further this time, allowing the private company to engage “outside agencies for preparation of a survey map with DGPS [Different Global Positioning System] readings.”

Four days after this order, on March 18, 2013, things started rolling with the Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests writing to the Divisional Forest Officer, directing the latter to permit MSPL to conduct a survey in the “forest area” of Chakkittapara.

However, the survey was short-lived after meeting with local resistance.

“On October 31, the local people stopped the survey team. We said the people have not been consulted before mining rights were given. We wanted a discussion with the authorities,” K. Sunil of the village says.

A meeting was held two days later on November 2. Its minutes highlighted the apprehensions of the Chakkittapara grama panchayat about the prospective use of forest land for mining — that it would lead to ecological problems, drinking water scarcity, and en masse unemployment for workers of the Plantation Corporation of Kerala, the land of which also came under the survey.