Maan Sai Darro and Narayan Markan — chiefs of 84 villages each in Bastar in Chhattisgarh — on Saturday travelled to the Capital to plead with the Centre to reinstate the Justice M.B. Shah Commission of Inquiry, which, set up by the Ministry of Mines in 2010 to look into illegal mining in seven States, has been dismantled before its investigations are completed.
After giving it two extensions in 2012 and 2013, the government has set the Commission’s termination date for October 16.
Close to 500 villages or 3 million people stand to be affected by mining in the region. The Commission was set up in response to the growing number of cases of illegal contracting, flouting of royalty payments and encroachments on public lands by mining operations across the country.
The panel’s probing led to the closure of hundreds of illegally-operating mines, including one of the nation’s largest iron ore mines in Bellary, according to the Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan.
The CBA says the government is required, under Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952, to provide an written reason for scrapping the panel.
It has been widely reported in South Chhattisgarh that the NMDC’s Bailadila mine has been 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 National Mineral Development Corporation’s mining activity and release of effluents “had damaged not just the rivers but also 35,000 hectares 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. [On] 90 per cent of the forest land, open pit mines [have come up], which has led to the disappearance of hundreds of bore-wells 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 Chhattisgarh government says 18 leases have been sanctioned for iron-ore mining in 8,758.25 hectares 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.