Commission’s term ends on October 16, Ministry denies it third extension

The Centre is not extending the tenure of the Justice M.B. Shah Commission, inquiring into illegal mining in seven States. With its tenure ending on October 16, the one-man panel will have to wind up within two weeks, without a thorough probe into irregularities in one of the severely mined States, Chhattisgarh, a source in the Commission informed The Hindu.

The Commission was giving mining barons a hard time with its exhaustive research and in-depth investigation over the last few years.

Given the complex and voluminous nature of data collection and compilation, the Commission was given two extensions earlier in July 2012 and July 2013. However, no reason for termination was cited this time. “We made a request to extend the tenure, but were told by the Ministry of Mines that an extension is not possible any more,” said an official attached to the Commission on condition of anonymity.

Its primary investigator, U.V. Singh, is quoted in a letter to the Ministry as saying, “…although the Commission has requested an extension… the Ministry has categorically denied its request, thus the Commission would no longer be coming to Chhattisgarh.” The letter, written by a leading alliance of various activist groups, the Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolon (CBA), has strongly condemned the termination of the tenure, insisting on the “need to continue investigation with on-site verifications” as the Commission has done in Orissa, Goa, Karnataka and Jharkhand.

Two earlier reports of the Commission, appointed in November 2010, on illegal mining across the country and in Goa have led to the closure of several mines, including one of the largest iron ore mines in Bellary, Karnataka.

Now, the Commission will not be able to conduct detailed hearings in three of the States listed in its terms of reference — Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. It has, however, decided to submit an “elementary” report about the “un-probed” States on the basis of its preliminary findings, sources told The Hindu.

The officer in charge of the Commission in the Ministry refused to provide an explanation to The Hindu, on its termination. “I will talk to you only after Secretary tells me,” the officer said and refused to come on the phone the rest of the week.It is an open secret in South Chhattisgarh that the NMDC’s Bailadila mine is illegally dumping thousands of tonnes of iron ore fines into the Indravati, Shankhini and Dankini rivers. As far back as 1990, the Union government’s Science and Technology cell reported that the NMDC’s mining activity and release of effluents “had damaged not just the rivers but also 35,000 hectare of agricultural and forest land around Bailadila,” noted the Centre for Science and Environment’s extensive mining survey, “Rich Lands Poor People,” a few years ago.

“The situation in Dalli Rajhara mines, after fifty years of mining by the Bhilai Steel Plant (BSP), is not much better. 90 per cent of the forest land has been converted [in]to open pit mines, which has led to the disappearance of hundreds of borewells and a consequent severe groundwater crisis,” the CBA said in its letter to the Ministry. However, granting of mining leases has not slowed down. A 2013 report of the Chhattsigarh government says 18 leases have been sanctioned for iron ore mining of 8,758.25 hectare in the State. Twelve of the 18 mines are in the Bastar region and as “the work ensues, the tribals will be displaced from their land illegally,” the CBA letter said. The BSP is also in the process of opening up massive Raoghat mines in Kanker in a couple of years.

In this context, a visit by the Commission was “absolutely necessary,” said Bastar residents.

“Three million people of Bastar, predominantly tribals, were looking forward [to the Commission hearing]. Sad that Government of India did not realise that,” said Dantewada’s seniormost journalist N.R.K. Pillai.