When an issue like mining scam has become a reason for the rolling of heads in several states, the unwavering stance of Orissa government to deny any impartial inquiry has slowly paved the way for a sense of dejection and disappointment among the people in the state. If a probe fails to find the real roots of a malaise such as the mining scam, that triggers a debate in the society. And if one takes note of the arguments right from the streets to the legislature and now judiciary over the alleged mineral loot in Orissa, it becomes all the more clear that the probe by the state vigilance department lacks the purposefulness and will to harp on the fat cats in the entire game of loot.
So, when the news about the visit by Saha Commission, led by justice MB Saha, to Orissa had trickled in, there was palpable concern in the political circles and a sense of euphoria among those who have been campaigning against the mega loot of minerals in the state. The Commission came and went back, leaving behind disbelief among many while the government heaved a sigh of relief. Disbelief because the issue, which relates to illegalities that allegedly account for a few lakh crores of rupees, had naturally injected a sense of urgency fuelling expectations and disappointment because, how on earth such illegalities, spanning over two years of exposure, can be given a second fiddle till date.
No doubt that the Commission had its own compulsions behind the measured statements made before the media here. But, what in fact left many purists concerned who all through had been advocating an impartial investigation into the loot, was the lukewarm response from the esteemed Commission as regards the role of politicians in the scam. The Commission, however, remained critical of the role of bureaucracy (as a direct party to the loot) and admitted that yes, there had been loot but it did not delve into the statistical complicities.
The loot was being perpetrated for the last one decade or so and it turned into mega loot after the rise in iron prices in the international market. Without knowing the parameters that the Commission was assigned with to conduct the probe, it is difficult to understand as to where and what the Commission lost sight of. However, two points were always lurking in the minds of the public, i.e., the role of political executives and a persistent demand for probe by the CBI into, supposedly, the largest loot of public property in the country, which has fallen into deaf ears for last two years.
"Hence, the decision of the state government to engage the state vigilance, a virtual tool of the political masters of the state, to probe such a huge loot has not been able to get the moral approval of majority," said Biswajit Mohanty, a social activist and petitioner in the Orissa High Court.
Till the end of the first public hearing by the Saha Commission, held at Keonjhar, state's largest mineral hub and the worst sufferer of the loot, the Commission was just critical of the violations of the environmental norms and illegalities committed in the forest areas, which are the common problems in all the raising areas. The other moral sounded by the Commission was that, “Let’s save minerals for the future generations.”
At a time when people were tired of hearing the news about the piece-meal actions by the state vigilance, only pinning down the minnows in the mining scam, the news about Justice Saha Commission’s visit to Orissa with an extraordinary diktat to hammer down the king pins, later appeared like a ceremonial mace. The Commission reportedly reprimanded some authorities during its official interactions and sounded warning bells for the bureaucrats. The mace never twirled on the possible brains behind of the loot - the politicians.
"How on earth a scam of such magnitude could be possible without the required political backing?" rued Mohanty, and added "the vigilance itself has sufficient evidence on the direct role of politicians".
During the second public hearing at Bhubaneswar, a litany of documentary evidences were submitted before the Commission, as also a number of pleas for a CBI probe. The Commission heard about 42 people drawn from various quarters, NGOs, social and RTI activists. And it did express the concern at the rate of disappearance of minerals by unlawful means and sent an appeal to all for conservation and preservation of the minerals for the generations to come.
The commission told the media that it had no evidence, so far, of any politician's hand behind the mineral loot. It may be mentioned here that in Keonjhar, Sukinda and Sundergarh, the three major hubs of minerals, invariably the political families are the lease holders and owners of major mines. And a few of them had been quizzed by the state vigilance and cases were booked under extremely toothless sections enabling them to obtain bails from the court.
A large number of cases are still pending in the Orissa High Court and what is common with all the petitions is the demand for a probe by the CBI.
The other important point which did not find the due mention in the probe process was the role of the Railways. There were several instances when the State's Directorate of Mines seized rake loads of iron ore siphoned off from Keonjhar illegally. FIRs were lodged and cases registered. According to the Directorate of Mines, rail route remained the major conduit in the smuggling of minerals and which can never be possible without the knowledge of the railway authorities.
There are many anomalies but Orissa government has never shown the political will for their redressal, which makes it abundantly clear that the people in power are uncomfortable with the underlying hazards of an impartial probe. The Chief Minister of Orissa, Naveen Patnaik, who is very good at the rhetorical fence-mending, still remains unfazed by the kind of demand for impartial probe into mining scam other than the state vigilance. Even the ease with which the Naveen government took the visit by the commission was, perhaps, an indication that he would not brook any radar on his domain.