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Illegal mining probe exposes miner-official nexus to loot mineral reserves of Orissa

"As the issue of illegal mining created furore in the state assembly in the last session, state government had to instruct for a vigilance enquiry into the matter and punish if anybody is found guilty. But what has been astonishing to people of the state is that the whole illegal operation was carried out in the knowledge of government officials."

Basudev Mahapatra : August 19, 2009

Keonjhar, the hub of iron and manganese ore has become the paradise of mining loot raising questions over the policies formulated to guide the industrialisation drive pursued by Naveen Pattnaik Government during last 5 years. Investigations have also revealed a nexus between mining company owners and government officials behind the loot of ores.

A recent visit by a group of Orissa BJP leaders to verify the scale of illegal mineral ore siphoning revealed that companies have been into large scale opencast mining in Joda-Barbil area of Keonjhar in Orissa. Not only illegal mining, but also non-permissible deportation of ore outside Orissa has become rampant in the district, as revealed by preliminary investigation by the State Vigilance department.

As the issue of illegal mining created furore in the state assembly in the last session, state government had to instruct for a vigilance enquiry into the matter and punish if anybody is found guilty. But what has been astonishing to people of the state is that the whole illegal operation was carried out in the knowledge of government officials, confirmed the investigating officer and Orissa vigilance SP Debadatta Pattanaik.

Estimates made by experts showed, manganese ore worth Rs.110 Crore had been siphoned from the site by one Ram Bahadur Thakur Company that has only applied for mining lease but is yet to comply with lot of things to get the lease approved.

Former Union Steel Minister and now a senior BJP leader Braja Kishore Tripathy says that the estimate made by Orissa government agencies shows an amount much below the reality. As per the physical verification done by BJP leaders, the amount of ore that has been deported from the site would not be less than some thousand crores, said Mr. Tripathy.

At the time when Naveen Pattnaik is high sounding on promoting mining and mineral based industries in the state, large scale illegal mining in the district of Keonjhar has put a question mark on the transparency claims made by BJD government.  As a proof of day light loot of ores, the investigation revealed that RBT had issued a power of attorney to SN Das Mahapatra & Co to pursue mining over the area, even without obtaining any formal licence or permission to excavate the ore.

The company was permitted to mine 200 MT for testing where as over 1806.72 MT manganese ore has been excavated and deported illegally. Even the armed guards deployed in the place by RBT have been allegedly carrying arms without licence or fake licence and terrorising local people objecting to such illegal practice by the company.

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Once a partner in the ruling coalition with BJD, BJP is now all set to raise the issue. After the issue was raised in the Assembly, government soon initiated an enquiry by the vigilance department which has found many mining officials, miners and forest department officials guilty and booked them.  The chief functionary of Ram Bahadur Thakur Company (RBT) is still untraceable by the investigating department.

State vigilance department has charge sheeted against nine members and 8 including seven state government officials and one mine owners have been arrested and forwarded to jail.

The arrested persons include Madan Mohan Biswal, deputy director ( mines) Joda, Ganeswar Mohanty, joint director (mines), Dhirendra Kumar Mishra, joint director ( mines), Sasadhar Sahu, former deputy director ( mines), Joda and Routray Murmu, mining officer, Joda, Dillip Kumar Beura, forest range officer, Joda and Kamalakanta Pradhan, forest section officer, Guali. The state vigilance is readying to quiz the present director of mines, R N Sahoo. “The involvement of the present director of mines is indicated in the scam. The irregularities could not have happened without his knowledge”, said Anup Patnaik, director of vigilance.

With a vigilance enquiry, government of Orissa believes to have done its best when opposition parties demand a CBI probe apprehending the investigation to be biased to save the powerful key culprits.

Terming the vigilance probe into the multi-crore mining scam in Orissa as an "eyewash", BJP and opposition party Congress demand a CBI inquiry into the case. "We doubt impartiality of the vigilance probe as it comes under home department headed by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who himself was in-charge of the steel and mines department for some time in 2007-08", told BJP legislature party (BJPLP) leader K V Singhdeo.

Demanding an investigation by the CBI, Singhdeo, who had first raised the mining issue in the Assembly, claimed that the probe could never be impartial as vigilance officials were state government employees.

"An agency controlled by State government cannot be impartial in probing involvement of ministers and the chief minister, and even the speaker of Orissa Legislative Assembly (OLA) Pradip Kumar Amat who was the steel and mines minister for over a year”, said the BJP leader.

“But vigilance department is no way inferior or under-skilled in compare to the CBI and the department has been given enough autonomy to carry out investigation impartially”, said Vigilance SP Mr. Debadatta Pattanaik.

However, the irregularities done by RBT are just tip of the iceberg. Such illegal practice is rampant in the district and everyday hundreds of metric tonnes of iron and manganese ores have been smuggled out of district. If the practice goes on, the reserves would go empty without making any revenue for the state. So the investigation by Vigilance Department must trace the real culprits and stop further theft of ores. Otherwise the investigation would be another eyewash without any result as happened with Orissa state health system development project scam.





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