A loot of Orissa’s natural resources

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Updated: Sep 30, 2009, 22:07 PM IST

D N Singh

The people of Orissa, those who are waiting for the mega mines scam in Orissa to be fully exposed and the guilty be punished, can remain assured that nothing like this is going to happen under the present dispensation. Considered to be the biggest ever loot of public property in the country, the revelations made so far by the state Vigilance wing is indeed mind boggling. An organized and unholy nexus of politicians, government officials and mines mafia have been able to give the worst possible blow to the state`s beleaguered economy.

Lakhs of crores of rupees worth of minerals have been illegally siphoned out from the state. Yet the state government seems to be in a state of stupor and other political parties in the state have shown no sign of waking up to such an unprecedented financial catastrophe in the country. Complacent as ever, the government is in no mood to invest sincere effort for an impartial probe.

This is so because they all know what torment a fair probe would unleash. One surely needs caution while using terms like thousands or lakhs of crores of rupees in any kind of financial embezzlement. But the reality that has surfaced so far in the state`s largest mineral hub, Keonjhar, gives credence to such descriptions. Common interest has made white-collar looters of different hues come under one umbrella.

The leader of opposition of Bhartiya Janta Party in the Assembly deserves thanks for raising the issue in the last session based on some preliminary evidence, it was this that led to the probe by the Vigilance department.

When the Vigilance sleuths reached Keonjhar`s Joda mines, the reality that came out was like a can of worms which left even the Vigilance people puzzled and the entire state watched the revelations with pained perplexity.

Manganese, Iron and Chromite ores, looted from the mines, amounted to thousands of crores of rupees. The total amount is a fortune that could have taken care of about twenty annual budgets of the state.

One after the other, the Vigilance department raided five mines which were being looted by the lease holders in full connivance with the Mining officials and the people from the Forest and Police departments. Lakhs of metric tons (MT) of ores were simply siphoned out. In some places the looting was direct and in other places it was carried out by proxy. It was, indeed a loot unlimited stretching from Keonjhar to Sukinda and Keonjhar to Mayurbhanj district.

M/S Ram Bahadur Thakur (RBT), M/S Arjun Lodha, M/S BD Patnaik, M/S Indrani Patnaik, Basant Das Minerals and M/S Patniak Minerals are some of the mines where the raids were conducted by the vigilance sleuths. Even going by the guarded disclosure by the vigilance people, the illegal extraction of Manganese alone from the RBT was to the tune of 5 lakh MT. By the present market price, it means a straight revenue loss of Rs.5,000 crores.

There was a similar shocker at the M/s Arjun Lodha mines where, in the last one year alone, there was an extraction of about 4 lakh MT out of which, 3.5 lakh MT were simply smuggled out and sold in the open market. But the sources in the mining department dub the vigilance figures as intentionally underplayed for obvious reasons whereas, the illegal mining was much more causing a revenue loss of about Rs.40,000 crore.

The above mentioned mine owner had applied for 326 hectares , there were 700 acres of forest area. However, Lodha had no forest clearance even for the applied patch. Yet mining was done in the entire area; which would not have been possible without an invisible protection from the mining and forest officials.

The perpetrators of such crimes, perhaps, believe in no limits. The vigilance department had stumbled across another mine leasehold of M/s Indrani Patnaik Mines in Keonjhar . The mine belongs to a political family with deep roots in mining trade. Against a permission of 0.21 million tone (MT) ore from an area of 106.1127 hectares ( of which 103.342 patch was forest land), the miner was allowed to raise from an area of 35.27 hectares.

But on an average 4 million tones of ore were extracted from the entire patch including the forest land, and it had been going on since 1999 upto 2009. A straight loot of about 40 million tones of mineral in ten years. If one ton iron ore sells at Rs 3000, on average then one can easily imagine the quantum of the loot behind 40 million tones of mineral.

Embezzlement of a similar tune was found in three other mines raided by the Vigilance department. In Keonjhar district, supposedly the mineral capital of Orissa, there are over 120 mines and out of which 96 are in operation. Majority of the mine owners face the common problem of forest lands where there is deposit. That is exactly where the puerile impatience for quick money assumes a criminal manifestation and raising of ores is somehow allowed in the prohibited areas, thanks to the nexus between the system that rules and the system that loots.

The role of the officials in the mining and forest departments behind such rackets has been largely exposed. "You can not think of rackets of such magnitude thriving without the support from the politicians and the bureaucrats," said one Vigilance sleuth requesting anonymity.

There are of course bigger players in the field who, somehow, have not come within the radar of the investigating agencies. But after the first vigilance raid in the RBT, a team from the Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM) made an unannounced visit to Keonjhar and found that, there is substantial evidence behind the alleged illegal mining and siphoning of minerals. The modus-operandi of loot, invariably is the same everywhere and there are many in the whole racket who benefit from the loot beginning from politicians to those below.

It is quite surprising that the Central government still maintains a studied silence over a racket of such magnitude and that too in a state ruled by a non-UPA party! This could be maybe because there is little to do with vote bank in this.

What, in fact, appears more plausible a reason behind the Centre`s soft-pedaling is, it was a tranquil sanctuary of plunder of an economy whose roots may have spread to Delhi. "How can a loot of such order go on without tacit political support from the Centre? said Biswajit Mohanty, a social activist “It is a different matter that the state is more directly responsible to check such pilferages,” he added.

The state government is bent upon vanquishing the chances of a probe by the CBI and with the Centre cold-shouldering the issue, the people of Orissa are desperate to see a vanguard who can take the issue to the streets. A defenceless treasury of wealth is being looted day and night through a cancerous nexus. Now it is only the judiciary
that can come to the rescue.