Proposals formulated in response to Shah Commission report

The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests has prepared its response to the Justice M.B. Shah Commission report on illegal mining in Odisha. But its proposals to address the violations flagged by the Commission will now be put on the back burner as the Cabinet has decided to refer the matter to a Committee of Secretaries.

In most of its proposals, accessed by The Hindu, the Union Ministry seeks to put the onus of action on the States.

On the 91 miners who carried out excavation without environmental clearance, mandatory under the Environment Protection Act, 1972, the Ministry has decided to seek more information from the States. In respect of the 75 lessees who mined more iron ore than what they were permitted to do, the Ministry intends asking the States to act against illegal mining. It also plans to tell the miners not to dig for mine illegally in future.

As for the delayed, or lack of, prosecution by the States of either illegal miners or officials who colluded with them, the Ministry will seek a report from the States.

The Commission pointed out that at present, the Ministry ordered violators of forest regulations to plant more trees as ‘penal compensation’ or pay extra penal funds as ‘net present value’ of forestland used. But this practice had no legal basis, and violators should be charged under the provisions of the law, leading to jail terms, the Commission said. The Ministry proposes to amend the rules to make compensatory afforestation legal and promises to amend the regulations to make initiation of action against violators mandatory for post-facto clearances to them.

It is mum on direct action against officials involved in the scam, which the Commission said involved Rs. 60,000 crore; instead, it has decided to examine each case of violation and direct its regional offices and the States to take action, if needed.

The Ministry has drafted orders for its regional offices and the States on the Commission’s report, but a case in the Supreme Court and the setting up of the Committee of Secretaries to follow up on the report promise to slow down the process.