After the recent visit of the M B Shah Commission of enquiry to Odisha to probe into alleged illegal mining activities, the beleaguered state government is bracing up to face the Supreme Court appointed Central Empowered committee (CEC).
A team of CEC officials will reach Odisha on December 8. Discussions with top state officials are slated for December 10.
“The CEC team will hold talks with top state officials on December 10. It is not clear if the team will undertake field visit of mines. The panel will mostly focus on compliance with forest laws at mining leases,” said a senior government official.
In the run-up to the CEC visit, the state forest & environment department has held a string of preparatory meetings.
“Our meetings have focused on making the necessary arrangements for the CEC team. There is absolutely no cause of concern as we are ready with all documents that the visiting CEC team would like to check,” said a top forest department official, refl, refusing to share details.
It may be noted that that the CEC in its report in April 2010, had pointed out the misuse of ‘deemed extension’ clause in Odisha under Rules 24-A (6) of Mineral Concession Rules-1960.
“Under the garb of deemed extension clause (Rules 24-A (6)) of Mineral Concession Rules-1960 and because of the non-implementation of the provisions of the Forest (Conservation) Act and the other applicable Rules and Guidelines, widespread and rampant illegal mining operations have been taking place in Odisha. The organized illegal mining is taking place with the active support of the state government and has resulted in the breakdown of the constitutional machinery,” the report had mentioned.
The CEC had concluded that mining activities were going on in a large number of mines in Odisha without the requisite approvals under Forest (Conservation) Act-1980, environmental clearances and air & water Acts. The mining activities also exceeded production limit as approved under the Mining Plans.
The committee further observed that a large number of mines have remained operational for long periods of time after the expiry of the lease period because of the delays in taking decisions on the renewal applications filed by the respective mining leaseholders. Consequently, the mines had become eligible for ‘deemed extension’ as provided under rule 24-A (6) of Mineral Concession Rules-1960.
“This provision (deemed extension clause) is not meant to be availed of indefinitely. Moreover, continuing mining over a long period of time without renewal of the mining lease becomes a potential source for serious illegalities and irregularities”, the CEC report stated.
While the CEC had acknowledged corrective steps taken rather belatedly by the state government, it had drawn the government’s attention to deal with serious shortcomings on a priority basis to ensure strict compliance with provisions of Forest (Conservation) Act-1980, Environment Protection Act and other statutory provisions.