‘The pursuit of super profits has drained the miners of feeling for fellow human beings’

It is one of the most scathing reports from the stable of Justice M.B. Shah Commission on illegal iron and manganese ore mining. It holds businessmen, the Odisha government and the Union government, responsible for systematic exploitation of natural resources and linked rampant corruption.

The report says: “All modes of illegal mining are being committed in Odisha. There is a complete disregard and contempt for law and lawful authorities on the part of many among the emerging breed of entrepreneurs, taking undue advantage of the country’s natural, non-renewable assets and resources for export earnings.”

The pursuit of “super profits has absolutely drained them [the miners] of any feeling for fellow human beings/for the nation and the moral values. The law has been made helpless because of its systematic non-implementation.”

The commission lists each company that mined ore worth thousands of crores ore in blatant disregard for mining and environmental laws. In some cases, mines ran illegally for more than two decades.”

The Hindu earlier reported the gross violation of environmental laws as made out in the report. The parts of the report accessed by the newspaper now also detail the rampant and wide-ranging violation of mining regulations.

The report says: “Amendment to mining lease is permitted only for conservation of minerals, protection of environment or safety. In 85 mining leases, the Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM) has modified the mining plan. In 30 cases, it was modified two or more times. In 53 mining leases, the IBM approved amendments retrospectively. In 49 cases, from 2000 till date, production was permitted to increase from 41.634 million tonnes to 118.978 million tonnes. In 8 cases, the production limit was increased from 18.940 million tonnes to 49.080 million tonnes. At this rate, all the iron ore reserves in the State will have been exhausted in 30 years.”

The commission noted that the State government had sent notice for recovery of money for the excess and illegal mining; this itself showed the State admitted rampant corruption.

The miners have made a killing, illegally exploiting natural resources, the commission says. For example, the government-owned NMDC showed its cost as only 16 per cent of the annual turnover, but another private company during the same time showed 62.38 per cent in cost for mining only to substantially reduce its profits on records.

The commission has listed companies by name for the extent of illegal mining done over a decade and recommended that the market costs of the ore extracted be recovered from each of them. The list includes State mining corporations as well as the biggest private miners operating in the State.

Warning that the super profits miners are making come at the cost of tribals and the State exchequer, the commission says those who get the mining lease do not operate it themselves, but give it to contractors or those with the power of attorney. For the miners, expenditure is not more than 45 per cent of the net value of production. The commission has recommended that in future, half the net profits be disgorged or an equity share taken from the lessee for development of tribals.

Even as the miners have turned billionaires, the commission notes labourers and the displaced tribals are ill-treated. “Mine owners do not pay more than minimum wages to the labourers even though their income is more than billions of rupees. They have no intention of paying fair wages. Labourers are exploited, and the object of ensuring that locals benefit is frustrated.”

The commission records how the existing system of allotting mining rights is based on the political discretion of both the State and the Centre and is open to corruption.