Union Minister Srikant Jena demanded the resignation of Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Monday, alleging he was “directly” involved in the multi-crore mining scam in the mineral-rich State.

Mr. Jena, a senior Congress leader from Odisha and currently Union MoS (Independent Charge) Statistics and Programme Implementation, said the government led by the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) virtually admitted it was involved in the “mega loot of minerals” in the State when it recently imposed a fine of Rs. 58,000 crores on 27 operators for illegal mining.

“The Chief Minister is hand in glove with the mining operators on whom he has imposed a fine… The scam would not have happened had Mr. Panaik not been involved in the scam himself,” Mr. Jena told reporters at a press conference.

Present at the press conference were other senior leaders, including Kalahandi MP Bhaktacharan Das and former State Congress chief Jaydev Jena.

Mr. Jena, who had earlier written to Mr. Patnaik, demanding that the mining companies’ leases be cancelled, said the scam could be pegged at Rs. 4 lakh crore, outstripping the recent mining scams unearthed in Karnataka and Goa.

Hitting out at the BJD government, Mr. Jena accused it of “sitting idle” since 2003-04, not bothering to check the “rampant irregularities” in mining even after repeated prodding from the Congress.

“Now, by sending out the notices to the miners, Mr. Patnaik has acknowledged his involvement in the scam,” Mr. Jena said, adding, “He has no right to continue in his position and should resign along with the concerned minister.”

If the Naveen Patnaik government had taken corrective measures, Odisha, where more than 60 lakh of its 84 lakh families live below poverty, would have been transformed into one of the richest States in the country, Mr. Jena said. In saying so, he however, acknowledged the failure of the Congress for failing to highlight the scam, saying, “We should have done it earlier. We should create awareness among the people. We admit to our mistake.”

He favoured the cancellation of all the mining leases and handing them over to the State-run Orissa Mining Corporation.

Asked about the alleged involvement of a relative of the Pradesh Congress Chief, he said, “The law will take its own course. We have nothing to say.”