The United Progressive Alliance government has put the scathing Justice M. B Shah report on mining under the ‘secret’ category, restricting circulation even within government circles, even as it informed the Supreme Court that the report would not be placed in the public domain before it is tabled in Parliament.
The Hindu earlier leaked parts of the final report, showing a strong indictment of Central and State government officials for gross and widespread violation of laws that continued for years and for permitting miners to illegally scoop out thousands of tonnes of iron ore.
Three environmental activists filed an application before the court asking that the government extend the term of the Shah Commission to investigate illegal iron ore mining in other key States including Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. The Mines Ministry, in its first response to the petition, said it was against giving another extension to the commission, whose earlier reports created a stir in Goa, Karnataka and the Central government.
The commission report on Goa especially created trouble for the UPA government with a strong indictment of the Environment and Forests Ministry for the period the portfolio was managed by the Prime Minister’s Office.
With political stakes high in the matter, the government has drafted the Attorney-General to represent it, along with the Solicitor General, in the case.
The report was submitted to the government on July 1, 2013 but has been kept under wraps. The mandatory ‘Memorandum of Action’ (MOA), too, has not yet been prepared. The MOA lists how the government plans to respond to the report. Once it is prepared, the Cabinet would have to approve it.
Under the Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952, the government is required to prepare an MOA and table it along with the commission report in Parliament within six months of submission.
The budget session would provide the next opportunity for the government to do this. It said putting the report out before it was tabled in Parliament would interfere with the functioning of the legislature, and a parallel judicial scrutiny would tantamount to interference.